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LORD DURHAM’S RETURN 1838 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume VI - Essays on England, Ireland, and the Empire 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume VI - Essays on England, Ireland, and the Empire, ed. John M. Robson, Introduction by Joseph Hamburger (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1982).
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LORD DURHAM’S RETURN
London and Westminster Review, XXXII (Dec., 1838), 241-60. Headed: “Art. VIII.—1. [Anon.,] The Preamble. No. VII. Lord Durham’s Return. November, 1838. / 2. The Quebec Gazette of the 9th October, 1838.” Running titles: left-hand, “Lord Durham’s Return:”; right-hand (page and line equivalents from this edition), “His Position” (448.15-449.8), “His Difficulties” (450.2-36), “The Political Prisoners” (451.32-452.17 and 453.17-454.11), “His Appointments” (455.7-456.12), “His Measures” (457.24-458.21), “His Resignation” (459.24-460.20), “The Proclamation” (461.16-462.11), and “His Success” (463.7-464.3). Signed “A.” Not republished. Identified in Mill’s bibliography as “An article entitled ‘Lord Durham’s Return’ in the London and Westminster Review for December 1838 (No 62)” (MacMinn, 51). In the Somerville College copy (tear-sheets) there is one emendation (which is adopted in this edition): “this country” is corrected to “his country” (456n.7). For comment on the essay, see xlii-xlvi above.
Lord Durham’s Return
there were consequences dependent upon Lord Durham’s mission to Canada, calculated to make it the turning point of English politics for years to come, and to raise every incident connected with it, however secondary in appearance, to the character of an event in history. It was not merely because the interests consigned to his charge, to be rescued from a state of peril and difficulty without any recent example, were the lives and fortunes of a million of British subjects, and the British dominion over possessions among the most intrinsically valuable, however hitherto mismanaged, of that vast empire on which “the sun never sets.”[*] In addition to so large a portion of the territory, there was delivered into his keeping the character also of England; her reputation in the eyes of all nations for wisdom and foresight, for justice, clemency, and magnanimity; at one of those critical instants when Europe, Asia, and America were looking on, to watch how England would act under this trial—whether like an irritated despot, or a serious and thoughtful ruler, intent upon profiting by experience, and gathering from her failures the most valuable kind of knowledge, that of her own mistakes. And along with interests of this importance to the physical resources and to the honour of England, there hung also upon Lord Durham’s measures the contingency of a war: war with men of our own race and language—war with the great customer of our foreign trade—war with the only power by which that of England has ever yet been baffled—a war of opinion, and a war against liberty, in which the sympathy of all Europe would have been with our enemies; the only war which could bring us into conflict with the free nations of the world and with the despots at once. All this was involved in the result of Lord Durham’s mission; and something greater still than all this, because involving, in its remoter consequences, these and all other national interests: the prospects of the popular cause in England; the possibility of an effective popular party, and of a Liberal Ministry worthy of the name.
What was the situation of politics? On one side, the great aristocratic party, recovered from the sudden shock which laid it prostrate in 1832, was progressively and rapidly reasserting its ascendancy; the illegitimate influences of property, the power to bribe and the power to starve, slowly but surely resuming the dominion which belongs to them—under our present electoral system—at all seasons except those of temporary popular excitement. To this natural progress what was there to be opposed? A body, consisting indeed of half the nation on the showing of their enemies, five-sixths of it on their own showing, and who, under all disadvantages and abatements, still possessed between two and three hundred voices in Parliament; but whose objects and opinions were ostentatiously repudiated by their ostensible chiefs—standing actually paralyzed for want of a common banner—for want of a bond of union, and leaders. There was one man to whom this party might look, to whom it had for years looked, as the man who might supply this want; the one person of his rank and influence who was identified with their opinions, the one person identified with their opinions who might be thought of, who had been thought of, as the head of a future Administration. Lord Durham was this man. Of no other man was there the same reason to hope both that he might be willing to put himself at the head of the Liberals, and that he would be able by doing so to render them the predominant party. And he alone was so marked out for the position, by every consideration of character, station, and past services, that if he chose to assume it he could do so without rivalry or dispute; that all the best heads and hands which the party could produce would flock round him with their services and their counsels; and the whole of its effective strength would come forth at his voice, and give him that decisive majority in the House of Commons, with which he might again break the power of the aristocratic faction, and this time provide more effectually that the dead might not be able to revive.
Such was Lord Durham’s position; such the consequences depending upon his qualifications for government. And these qualifications were now to be tried by a most unexpected, a most severe, but at the same time a most appropriate test. Severe, because the difficulties were arduous, and the file of precedents contained no case in point; but appropriate, because such circumstances are those which test the possession of the very qualities that are required.
Nations are not governed nor saved by fine sentiments, or clever personalities, or dialectical acuteness, or book-knowledge, or general theories. If they could, the Liberal party would not now be in search of a leader. A true politican knows how to put all these things to their proper use. But the man we want is the one who can recommend himself not solely by the ability to talk, nor even merely to think, but by the ability to do. We want a man who can wrestle with actual difficulties and subdue them; who can read “the aim of selfish natures hard to be spelled,” can bend men’s stubborn minds to things against which their passions rise in arms; who needs not sacrifice justice to policy, or policy to justice, but knows how to do justice, and attain the ends of policy by it. We want a man who can sustain himself where the consequences of every error he commits, instead of being left to accumulate for posterity, come back to him the next week or the next month, and throw themselves in his path; where no voting of bystanders can make that success, which is, in truth, failure; where there is a real thing to be done, a positive result to be brought about, to have accomplished which is success—not to have accomplished it, defeat.
The world has a memorable example of such a man in Washington, and an inferior, but still a great one, within his sphere, in the Duke of Wellington. Such a man as the first, or even as the last, we cannot look to have; but a much inferior degree of the same qualities would suffice us. Even these could not have accomplished what they did, had they not been well helped and counselled. We do not need a man who can be sufficient without help, but a man who can avail himself of help; who knows where to find help; who can either do or get done what the situation requires, by the best means it affords. We need a man who can seize the great circumstances of his political position; who can see where his objects lie, and what things stand between him and them; can conceive the outline of a policy by which they may be attained; and find men competent to assist him in filling up the details.
The popular party will soon be either the ascendant power in this country, or a thin, feeble, and divided opposition to the Tory ascendancy, according as they are or are not supposed to possess, or to be capable of producing, such men. It is what the world, at present, by no means gives them credit for. The world never gives credit to anybody for good qualities till it is compelled to do so. It denied them honesty, it denied them learning, literary accomplishments, philosophy, oratory, while it could: it now denies them capacity for action. They are considered essentially unpractical. Can they wonder at it? In the first place, this is a charge always made in politics against honest men. Next, it is a charge always made against men who stand up for general principles, or distant objects. But, above all, it is always made against men who are untried, and who there is no desire should be tried. They are untried. They have to prove that they can be men of action. They have their spurs yet to win.
Lord Durham, then, the man marked out as a leader for this party—as, for the present, almost its only possible leader—was suddenly in a position in which he would be obliged to show whether he was a man of action, or could become one. This was a conjuncture of the deepest import to all Liberals. And it was a conjuncture to try the quality, not of Lord Durham only, but of many persons besides. It was an occasion for sifting the really practical part of the great Liberal body from the unpractical. According to the disposition they manifested to aid or to obstruct Lord Durham in a business so vital to Liberal objects; according to the manner in which they judged him, or rather to the principles which they brought with them to judge him by, they would afford decisive evidence to which of those two sections of Liberals they belonged.
Now, then, what circumstances had Lord Durham to deal with? A country, the two divisions of whose inhabitants had just been cutting each other’s throats, and in which the majority openly sympathised with an insurrection just suppressed, and suppressed only by a military force which they were physically unable to resist; one party still crying loudly for the blood of the other, which in its turn was muttering vengeance for the blood already shed. With one of these parties, the more numerous though momentarily the weaker, the public opinion of a neighbouring country, where public opinion is omnipotent, was urged by every motive of political sympathy and national aggrandizement to fraternize; the violent acts of the Loyalists of Upper Canada, and the violent words of a Lieutenant-Governor, had added to these incitements of ambition and sympathy the incitements of resentment; and if the storm burst which was manifestly gathering, a hundred thousand men would have been across the frontier before the news could reach England; four-fifths of the population of the Canadas would have risen to join them; and, in a fortnight, the fifteen thousand troops that garrison British America would have been shut up in the fortress of Quebec, or driven into the sea. The opposite party was comparatively weak on the American continent; but it was the energetic party; and made ample amends for its inferiority there, by its preponderance here. It had the whole of the aristocratic party enthusiastically in its interest. It had alone the ear of the English public. It was called the British party. All that was known of it by ninety-nine men out of a hundred was that it was the “loyal” party—the party of British connection. It had all the Tory and almost the whole of the Liberal press for its organs. In this dilemma was Lord Durham. One step too much towards the French side, and he might expect to be recalled, and to have all his projects for the good of Canada defeated, all his measures reversed. One step too much to the English side, and the empire was involved in the most ruinous, the most dishonourable, and the most fratricidal of wars.
Here were real difficulties: here was an emergency not to be conjured away by phrases: here was the occasion for a Governor-General, let him be Conservative or Liberal, to show whether he was a pedant and a formalist, or a man of action and reality; whether the Shibboleth of his party governed him, or he it; whether the attainment of his end, or the rules which he had learnt by heart, were dearest to him; whether he was a man bent upon succeeding in his object, or a man like the old Austrian tacticians opposed to Napoleon,[*] or the physician in Molière, who would rather kill his patient by rule than save him contrary to it.[†]
What indication would Lord Durham have given of himself—to which of the classes above characterized would he have proved himself to belong, if he had proposed to himself to cope with such a combination of circumstances as we have described, by the mere common-places of Liberalism? Could he have been fit for his post if he had looked into a book of rules or a catechism of doctrines for his conduct, and not at his position, and the ends and means which it dictated?
We claim for Lord Durham, from dispassionate men of all parties, the recognition that he did apply his mind to those ends and means; that he took, in every essential particular, a just and a comprehensive view of them; that the scheme of policy which he conceived, and began to execute, contained within itself every element of success; that he has even already, to a very great extent, succeeded; and would have succeeded altogether if he had met with no obstacles but those which he could calculate upon, none but what were inherent in his situation; if each of his measures had been opposed by those only to whose principles it was adverse; if Conservatives had not rushed in to destroy a Conservative measure, Radicals to denounce the act which saved the lives of Radical leaders: both forgetting the essentials of their political creed in the common-places of it, and doing thereby as much as one act could do towards proving themselves the pedants and formalists which the latter are called, but which is now proved to be a character fully as applicable to the former. We leave the Tories in the hands of the Standard, a journal whose superiority to its party in real understanding of the principles they profess, never more strikingly asserted itself—and which on this occasion has merged the party passions it so strongly participates, in the sympathy of talent for talent and vigour for vigour, and given the candid construction at all times, and the support in time of need, due from consistent Tories to an officer of the Crown, engaged in an enterprise not of party but of national concernment, amidst difficulties over which only the honourable forbearance of the disinterested of all parties could enable him to triumph.
When Lord Durham landed in Canada the insurrection was already suppressed; the work of the sword was done, and what remained was to heal its wounds, and obviate the necessity of again drawing it. Lord Durham saw that the sine quâ non of success in this was a reconciliation of parties. Without it he might, indeed, have kept Canada by force, if the United States would have let him; but only by making the yoke of the mother country a tyranny; only by making her an object of detestation, of imprecation, to her subjects; never under such a government could Canada have been a safe place for Englishmen to dwell in; never could she have been anything but a drain upon our finances in peace, upon our military resources during actual or apprehended war. To restore a free constitution, and to restore it at the earliest period possible, was the only means of governing Canada which Parliament had contemplated, the only one which Lord Durham either could, or, we may presume to say, would, be a party to.
But the constitution being supposed re-established, was the struggle of the majority and minority to be renewed, which was all the fruit it had yet borne, and the sole justification, if justification there was, of its suspension? We waive all the matters of principle and of policy involved in the question whether the restoration of a constitution, without a previous reconciliation of parties, would have been desirable; but would it, we ask, have been possible? If a House of Representatives must be an instrument of one exasperated party or of the other, could Lord Durham expect the Lords and Commons of Great Britain to put that instrument into the hands of the party whom they considered disaffected? and could it, without the grossest injustice, and without consequences in the end still more fatal, have been put into the hands of the other?
To heal, therefore, the breach between the two parties; to avoid, so far as possible, whatever would either put in evidence the extent of the animosity which already existed, or give fresh occasion to it; to make it apparent that if there ever had been, there no longer was, any quarrel between the races, and that representative institutions might be restored without giving rise to a permanent conflict between the English and the French population—was the one condition of success in Lord Durham’s enterprise; and to attain this, we challenge controversy when we assert, that his whole series of measures was admirably calculated.
The first thing to be disposed of, was the traces of the past insurrection, the political prisoners. We are not going to argue over again the worn-out topic of the ordinance.[*] We said enough on that manner in the second edition of our last number.* We have nothing to add to our defence of it; we have only to point out its relation to that comprehensive scheme for a reconciliation of parties which Lord Durham had conceived, and which we assert that he has in every respect acted up to. Had he granted an unconditional amnesty, he would have set the leaders of the French Canadians, including all who had been prominent in the insurrection, at large among their countrymen, to resume all their former influence, before he could form the slightest judgment whether that influence would be used for him or against him, to calm the irritation of the people or to exasperate it. He well knew that in the latter event they could do in the one way what would be far more than a match for all he could do in the other. We speak not of the irreconcilable offence which would have been given to the party so lately fighting with the insurgents, as it believed for life or death, and whose cries for the blood its fears demanded (cries not wholly unsupported, if report speak true, by the Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada)[*] could only have been kept in check by something which would carry with it the wiser heads of the Loyalist party itself. On the other hand, if he had tried these men by an unpacked jury, that is to say, a jury of their own party, the result would equally have been their liberation, with the character of persecuted men, and with the whole train of consequences flowing from the animosities engendered by the trial.* And was he to pack a jury? or to try them by the judges, by the men most odious to their party, without a jury? or was a court-martial to be the resource? or a special commission appointed for the nonce? Imagine them so tried, imagine them found guilty by any of these tribunals, and of course sentenced to death, and the sentences commuted for transportation to Bermuda! What those in England, who are so bitter against Lord Durham now, would have said of him then, we know not; but when he, by what the French Canadians would have deemed a violation of all law, had procured a sentence which they would have considered to be in defiance of all justice, what chance would the persecutor of their leaders have had of gaining their confidence, what chance of winning back their affections to British rule?
Lord Durham disposed of the prisoners in the only way compatible with his policy, a policy not of talking about conciliation, but of aiming at it; and never in a similar situation did any government that we know of act with a happier union of vigour and lenity. And so it has been pronounced by as good judges of the principles of liberty as any English democrats, the people of the United States; whom this act above all others contributed to detach from the cause of Canadian separation; and (together with the assiduous cultivation of every opportunity of counteracting, by the expression of sentiments of good-will, the impression which some of his predecessors had made by the ostentatious avowal of opposite ones) has restored that peace and friendship between two great nations, which, so long as Lord Durham’s policy is followed up, as the spirit of his administration shall rule in Canada, there is no danger that we should again see broken.
In every other act from which the spirit of his policy could be seen, the same general view of his position is apparent. His first act on entering the country, the composition of his two councils, was a declaration that he would put himself into the hands of neither party. But while he kept himself independent of both, he did not exclude either, from a share in his deliberations or in his favours. He gave, or offered, appointments to influential men on both sides,* and availed himself of the opinions of the moderate men of both, so far as they were willing to communicate them. It has been stated in print that he endeavoured, through the medium of Mr. Wakefield, to open a communication even with M. Papineau;[*] but we are informed that this is incorrect, and that Mr. Wakefield acted solely on his own prompting;[†] affording, however, by what he did, an opening to M. Papineau for fair and honourable explanation, which that gentleman, we will venture to say with more passion than judgment, rejected.* But the institutions which he was about to bestow on the colony, are what exhibit above all the superiority of his conceptions, and those of his advisers, over the peddling expedients of common-place politics. It is there that we can estimate the difference between a policy of conciliation and one of compromise; between the vulgar juste-milieu of mere time-servers, and that which aims at contenting all parties by being just to all. There are few statesmen in our days, who may not take a lesson from the means which Lord Durham chose for carrying with him the opinion of the majority of both races; from the system of healing measures which he devised, to detach the reasonable and disinterested portion of both parties from the unreasonable.
Though the leaders of parties have generally unworthy objects in view, their followers, as it has been often said, have almost always honest ones. Canada is no exception to this rule. Both the English and the French have grievances, which each believes that the other will not suffer to be removed. Among the demands of the French have long figured, in the most prominent place, free municipal institutions and a general system of education; and these they complain that the English will not let them have. The English want a system of registration, the commutation of feudal tenures, internal improvements, and facilities for colonization; and complain that they could not get these from the French when the latter were masters of the Assembly.
We are not going to discuss the justice of these complaints; how greatly exaggerated the last are, we showed in a former article, from the evidence of Lord Gosford and his Commissioners.* But there must be some colour for them. They must have some appearance of truth, by which they are rendered credible, or they would not be serviceable even as pretexts. It is evident that disinterested English Canadians believe the one set of assertions, disinterested French Canadians the other. It is evident that the English and French generally, and not merely factious leaders on either side, see in each other the hindrance to their obtaining those improvements which impartial third parties would bestow upon them. The course, then, for Lord Durham was to seize the golden opportunity of giving to both what they were entitled to; of removing all that had occasioned heart-burning between the honest of the two parties, all that had afforded the dishonest of either a handle for misrepresentation. This was Lord Durham’s duty; and to his honour be it said, this he would have done, this lesson he leaves for his successor.
The measures which were on the point of completion when his career was cut short, were four in number: all of first-rate importance, all such as ought to have been given, even though not asked for: two of them had been long demanded by the popular party, two by the English population. The first was, free municipal institutions: not only the grand instrument of honest local management, but the great “normal school” to fit a people for representative government, and which have never yet existed in Canada.[*] The preparation of this law was undertaken by Mr. Charles Buller, whose admirable speech in the House of Commons on that very subject no one can have forgotten.[†] The second measure was a comprehensive scheme of general education. The third was a Registry Act, for titles to landed property. The fourth was for the commutation of feudal tenures in Montreal, where they are peculiar, and peculiarly obnoxious to the English population.[‡] These were to be followed by others, among which the Proclamation enumerates “large and solid schemes of colonization and internal improvement,” a “revision of the defective laws which regulate real property and commerce,” the introduction of “a pure and competent administration of justice,” the “eradication of the manifold abuses engendered by the negligence and corruption of former times, and so lamentably fostered by civil disunions.”[§] These are the projects in the midst of which Lord Durham has been interrupted; these the services, which Parliament thought fit to take from him the power of rendering. We know it is one thing to aim at these noble objects, another thing to accomplish them; we cannot tell with what degree of skill he, or his advisers, would have performed a task, difficult, without much trial and experience, even to the ablest men. But how many English statesmen can be named, capable of rising to the conception of such objects? Is there one other who, in Lord Durham’s situation, would have had the public spirit and courage even to attempt the realization of them?
Passing now from what is known of Lord Durham’s projects to what is only believed, to the scheme, so far as yet matured, which he is understood to have had in view for the future constitution of the colony;[*] this, too, so far as anything is known of it, is constructed upon the same great principle of impartial justice; the removal of all real evils; the satisfaction of the just demands of either side. The French sought to be freed from the incubus of a Legislative Council, a second chamber, representing neither the English nor the French population, neither the colony nor the mother country, but possessing a veto on every proposal emanating from either, and which it actually exercised against measures equally desired by both.[†] From this grievance it is understood that Lord Durham was prepared to relieve them.* The English complained that the French of Lower Canada, by their majority in the House of Assembly, possessed a veto on all measures which concerned the five colonies collectively; that the navigation of the St. Lawrence, the roads and canals, the post office and custom regulations, of all British America, were under the control of a portion of the people of one colony, who had no good-will, it was affirmed, either to commerce or colonization, and who, aiming at a separate nationality, were rather hostile than friendly to the improvement of the purely British provinces. Lord Durham’s plan took such affairs entirely out of their cognizance, and placed them and all matters of common concernment under a federal body, to be chosen by all the provinces, and subject, in the same manner with the local legislatures, to the veto of the mother country. This project, the principle of which so exactly met the difficulties of the case, that every one who has sincerely applied his mind to an amicable adjustment, has hit upon it—that for a moment it united the suffrages of Mr. Roebuck and of Lord John Russell[‡] —had the further advantage, that it was the only legitimate means of destroying the so-much-talked-of nationality of the French Canadians. It would compel them to consider themselves, not as a separate family, but an integral portion of a larger body; it would merge their nationality of race in a nationality of country; instead of French Canadians it would make them British Americans; and this without bringing into their house and home, into their social and domestic relations, the customs of another people (which, whether practised on all of them or on a part, would be one of the last excesses of despotism), or establishing, as hitherto, over not only their necks but those of the English population, a petty oligarchy of the latter.
The mode in which the suffrage was to be regulated under the proposed constitution has not yet transpired, and we cannot, for this and other reasons, at present pronounce an opinion upon the scheme as a whole. There will be time enough and materials enough for discussing what must be the principal topic of the approaching session of Parliament. In the mean time let us come to the questions—was Lord Durham justified in resigning? and, if he resigned, can the manner be defended in which he published to the colony the reasons of his resignation?[*]
We think that he was justified. When a man has had grievous cause given him for resentment it is easy to accuse him of being actuated by it. But we see no ground for any such imputation. We see nothing in his conduct which is not defensible on public grounds. He declares that the moral force and consideration of his government were gone. What else was to be expected? The attacks in Parliament, the mere vituperation of his enemies, he could have stood; but to have the first and only completed act of his government annulled, was to strike with impotence all that he could thereafter do. If men at the distance of half the globe, in utter ignorance of the facts of the case and the situation of the colony, at the dictation of personal enmity and party spite, were suffered to overset one of his acts, his friends not merely looking on tamely, but, after a few deprecatory words, actually turning round to aid in the deed, and themselves giving the mortal blow—what better fate could he expect for any other of his proceedings? If the Conservative House so treated his Conservative measure, what hope was there for his Radical ones? Facts, which he did not then know, have justified his anticipations. On the very day preceding that which brought the news of his retirement, the chief newspaper organ at once of the Ministry and of the English Canadian party, fulminated an anathema against his plan of a federal legislature;[†] and it is some consolation for the abrupt close of his government, when we see that, however wisely his plans might have been formed, he would not have been suffered to carry them. The coalition between the Tory party at home, and those who are Liberals at home and Tories in the colonies—between the enemies of a representative constitution altogether, and the enemies of any which does not make the minority preponderant—would have been too strong for Lord Durham at the distance of half the globe; and the battle for good government in Canada, as well as for reform in Great Britain, will have to be fought here. Add, too, that Parliament, while showing so patriotic a zeal for keeping him within his powers, declined to render those powers sufficient; the ground assigned for the refusal being expressly the unfitness of Lord Durham to have that extension of power which Lord Melbourne at first solicited, but meekly withdrew his prayer without waiting for its rejection.
Lord Durham saw that he could do no good in Canada if the every-day weapon of a faction for making war upon another, its engine for working its adversaries out and itself in, was to be a presumptuous interference with his administration; and he felt that if his friends were not prepared to back him better, they should have looked out for a man who had no enemies.
Such measures as those which he had in view required, as he truly says, “all the strength which the cordial and stedfast support of the authorities at home can alone give to their distant authorities; all the moral force” that could be derived by a government
from the assurance that its acts would be final, and its engagements religiously observed . . . . Of what avail are the purposes and promises of a delegated power, whose acts are not respected by the authority from which it proceeds? With what confidence can I invite co-operation, or impose forbearance, whilst I touch ancient laws and habits, as well as deep-rooted abuses, with the weakened hands that have ineffectually essayed but a little more than the ordinary vigour of the police of troubled times?[*]
But the Proclamation! We are not surprised at the cry which has been raised against this noble and plain-spoken document. We can conceive what gall and wormwood,[†] to a certain class of official men, a state paper must be, so “remarkable” (it has been well said) “for its disregard of conventional usages, and its contemptuous treatment of the mysteries of state-craft.”[‡] To speak so much truth to the governed concerning their government, has been not unnaturally reprobated, as contrary to all rule—as an embarrassment wantonly thrown in the path of his successor—an appeal to the public of the colony from the government at home—a sacrifice of the tranquillity of the province to childish pique.
We wonder that those who are in so much haste to call the Proclamation inflammatory, do not ask themselves what there was for it to inflame? Whether all upon whom the topics introduced into it could have any inflammatory effect, were not already roused to such a pitch of indignation, that the calm though feeling manner in which their sentiments were responded to by the Governor-General, was more calculated to temper than to add fuel to the fire? It can hardly be supposed that those who hanged Lords Brougham and Melbourne in effigy, and who voted the addresses and passed the resolutions of which such multitudes have reached us, waited to form their opinion on the affront to Lord Durham until he told them that it was one. His address was no “appeal” to them; their sentence was already pronounced. The whole scope and object of the Proclamation has been carelessly misapprehended. It was not a complaint; there was no more complaint in it than was unavoidable. Its purpose, its declared purpose, was to explain the reasons of his retirement. All the addresses, all the resolutions, were solicitations to him to retain the government: the Proclamation was his answer.
If the only use of making this explanation had been to gratify personal feelings, by guarding his motives from misconstruction, then, as there would have been no public good to be attained, private sentiments, however creditable, might have found a more appropriate expression through private channels. But it was not as a mere matter of individual feeling that it was important for him to retain the confidence of all among the Canadian people who had bestowed it upon him. Though no longer their Governor, his connexion with them was not to cease; upon him it was to devolve to watch over their interests in England; he was the only man in the kingdom of first-rate political influence, the only man ever thought of as minister, or as a party leader, who did not at that moment stand convicted, in the minds of those whom he was addressing, of the grossest ignorance of all the circumstances of the colony, and the most presumptuous incapacity in legislating for it. When this last specimen of presumption and incapacity was making the whole British population of both the Canadas join with the French Canadians in denouncing the principle of distant colonial government, and the very officials talk familiarly of a separation, was it nothing to show to Canada that there was one British statesman who could understand her wants and feel for her grievances—that from any councils in the mother country in which he had influence she might expect justice—and that the man, on whose constancy and magnanimity so much depended, was not throwing up his mission from personal disgust, but returning to England because the manœuvres of his enemies had changed the place where he could serve them from Quebec to the House of Lords?
Viewed in this light, it seems to us that the Proclamation, with all in it that has been inveighed against—the ungrudging acknowledgment of past misgovernment and present abuses—the disclosure of his generous schemes for the improvement of the laws and administration, and for conferring “on an united people,” not a restricted, but “a more extensive enjoyment of free and responsible government”[*] —so far from needing an apology, points out Lord Durham, beyond almost anything else which he has done, as the fit leader for the great Reform party of the empire. The proclamation was the necessary complement and winding up of his short administration—the explanation which was due to the people of Canada for the past, and the best legacy which he could leave to them for the future. So far from being inflammatory, it was in all probability the only kind of address to the people, which, in the then state of men’s minds, could have had any healing effect.
As we have said all along, the main end of his administration was the reconciliation of the two parties, by exhibiting to both, embodied in a series of measures, a policy which, by satisfying the just claims of both, should convince them that there was no necessity for their being enemies—that both might hope for justice under a government knowing no distinction between them. If this, the one thing needful, was now debarred him by the mother country, was it not the next best thing, since he could not leave healing measures, to leave healing principles behind him? Next to doing the noble things spoken of in the proclamation, to point them out as fit to be done, was the thing most calculated—was the one thing calculated—to restore harmony in the colony. If the policy there chalked out is that on which alone a reconciliation of parties and races can be founded; then, since he could not give them the policy itself, he has done well and wisely in giving them the hope of such a policy; in giving them the idea of it, as a possible thing, as the thing which they should strive for, instead of separation, or the mere predominance of their own side; and which, as far as his influence reaches, he will yet help them to obtain.
These considerations are still further strengthened if we reflect in what position the disallowance of the ordinance found Lord Durham with respect to the French Canadians. He had as yet done nothing to redress what they deemed their grievances. His plans for their benefit, like all his other plans of general improvement, were yet unfinished; and they were a people too little accustomed to good treatment from their rulers to give their confidence until earned by actual benefits. Lord Durham had done enough to convince the more intelligent and experienced people of the United States—not enough to convince the French Canadians. Of the amnesty, qualified by the ordinance, they knew not at first what to think; but when they learnt from the despatch laid before Parliament that “Sir John Colborne and the heads of what is called the British party”[*] had approved of it, from that moment (we know the fact) the French, though previously undecided, deemed it their part to disapprove of it. This was mere prejudice in them; if Lord Durham could carry the British party with him in clemency to the French, the greater was the credit due to him; and having to give an account of his measure in a quarter where lenity was more likely to be imputed to it than severity, he naturally availed himself of the fact that it had obtained the acquiescence of those whose error was not likely to be on the lenient side. But when we consider how the French Canadians have seen governor after governor become the tool of the officials, and how seldom the two parties have concurred in approving of the same measures, we cannot wonder that a governor who had done but one great act, and that act in concert, as it now appeared, with the dominant faction, should not yet have made much progress in attaching the other party to his government.
If, then, Lord Durham had left matters in this state; if he had departed leaving no explanation to the Canadians of his principles and of his ulterior purposes, he would have gone away without doing a single act which could prove to the French population that there existed a British statesman willing to redress their grievances, and without giving a single lesson to the English party of what was due to the French. We maintain that, surrounded as he was at the last by the English inhabitants—leaving the country amidst the mingled sound of their plaudits and their lamentations, while the bulk of the French Canadians kept sullenly aloof—he had, from all these causes, an appearance of being the man of a party, of giving his countenance to the exclusive principles of a class, which appearance he was bound to throw off—from which it would have been criminal in him not to have taken the most direct means of freeing himself. And we foretel that his having done so will yet be found to be the greatest thing yet done to facilitate the settlement of Canada on a basis just, and therefore capable of being permanent. The whole English population are now committed, as far as the strongest public demonstrations can commit them, to the policy of a man, who has told them unambiguously and minutely, and in a manner admitting of no misunderstanding, that his plans involve full justice to the French Canadians. They have invested with their confidence, they have acknowledged as their virtual representative, the man who is identified with the principle of conciliation instead of coercion, of equal justice to all instead of the predominance of the few over the many. The English population has stood up openly as a distinct body from the jobbing official clique which has hitherto assumed to be its representative; and it may be hoped that the settlement of Canada which they will now exert themselves for, will be conceived under the inspiration of Lord Durham rather than that of the late legislative council.
It is time to conclude. We have attempted to do justice to the absent—to show that, instead of having done anything to justify the clamour which has been raised from so many discordant quarters against them, Lord Durham and his advisers, so far as their conduct can yet be judged of, have displayed qualities among the rarest to be found in English politicians, and which, wheresoever found, conspicuously mark out the possessors for that station at the head of the Reform party which the present Ministers have thought fit to abandon. But their defence is now in their own hands. They will soon be here, not only to combat their enemies, but to perform the more important duty of expounding their own views; and we shall not be long without full opportunity of judging whether Lord Durham is equal to the great destiny to which he is called (and which is not a destiny for any man who cannot give active guidance), or is wanting in the courage to claim it, or the energy and skill for its achievement.
Meanwhile, he has been thwarted, but he has not failed. He has shown how Canada ought to be governed; and if anything can allay her dissensions, and again attach her to the mother country, this will. He has at the critical moment taken the initiative of a healing policy; that which seeks popularity, not by courting it, but by deserving it, and conciliation, not by compromise, but by justice—by giving to everybody, not the half of what he asks, but the whole of what he ought to have. If this example had not been set at that juncture, the colony was lost; having been set, it may be followed, and the colony may be saved. He has disposed of the great immediate embarrassment, the political offenders. He has shown to the well-intentioned of both sides an honourable basis on which they may accommodate their differences. He has detached from the unreasonable of one party their chief support, the sympathy of the United States; and it is reserved for him to detach from the unreasonable of the other the sympathy of the people of England. He comes home master of the details of those abuses which he has recognized as the original causes of the disaffection; prepared to expose these as they have never before been exposed, and to submit to Parliament, after the most comprehensive inquiry which has ever taken place, the system on which the North American Colonies may be preserved and well governed hereafter.
If this be failure, failure is but the second degree of success; the first and highest degree may be yet to come.
[[*] ]The phrase seems originally to have been applied to the Spanish Empire; for example, see John Smith, in Advertisements for the Unexperienced Planter of New England, or Anywhere (London: Haviland, 1631), p. 37, where he says it should become equally applicable to the British Empire.
[[*] ]Including Michael von Kienmayer, Johann Joseph von Liechtenstein, and Franz von Weyrother.
[[†] ]Jean Baptiste Poquelin Molière, L’amour médecin (Paris: Le Gras, 1666), pp. 39-40 (II, iii).
[[*] ]John George Lambton, “An Ordinance to Provide for the Security of the Province of Lower Canada,” PP, 1837-38, XXXIX, 914-16; reviewed by Mill, “Radical Party and Canada,” London and Westminster Review, VI & XXVIII (Jan., 1838), 2nd ed., 502-33 (pp. 405-35 above).
[* ]We will only, since we have been accused [by John Arthur Roebuck, in “Lord Durham’s Administration in Canada: Letter I,” Spectator, 3 Nov., 1838, pp. 1039-40] of setting up a defence for the Ordinance at variance with Lord Durham’s own, point to the fact that Lord Durham’s statement, now when we have it, exactly tallies with ours. We said, that the banishment of certain persons from the colony, during the Governor-General’s pleasure, was not punishment without trial; not punishment at all, but a measure of precaution, removing from the province those whose presence in it would for the time be injurious; not a judicial, but a legislative act—a privilegium, in the language of the Roman law; an ostracism, not a punishment. What says Lord Durham? “As it was essential to my plans for the future tranquillity and improvement of the colony, that I should commence by allaying actual irritation, I had in the first place to determine the fate of those who were under prosecution, and to provide for the present security of the province, by removing the most dangerous disturbers of its peace. . . . I could not, without trial and conviction, take any measures of a purely penal character. But I thought myself justified in availing myself of an acknowledgment of guilt, and adopting measures of precaution against a small number of the most culpable or most dangerous of the accused.” [Lambton, “A Proclamation,” The Times, 7 Nov., 1838, p. 3.]
[[*] ]Francis Bond Head.
[* ]Our case, in this part of it, has been much strengthened since we formerly wrote, by the publication of the letter in which the prisoners in confinement petitioned to be disposed of without trial. As this important document has not attracted the degree of attention it merits, we reprint it.
“The Right Hon. the Earl of Durham, Governor-General, &c.”
[* ]Unfortunately, while his offers to influential British Canadians were commonly accepted, those to French Canadians were rejected. When Adam Thom, formerly editor of the Montreal Herald, was appointed an Assistant Commissioner of the Municipal Inquiry, Lord Durham made overtures of a similar nature to M. Taché, the fittest Frenchman for the purpose to be found in all Canada; but that gentleman refused, because he would not serve in the same Commission with Mr. Thom.
[[*] ]Roebuck, “Lord Durham’s Administration in Canada: Letter II,” p. 1062.
[[†] ]See Edward Gibbon Wakefield, “The French Canadians,” Spectator, 24 Nov., 1838, p. 1109.
[* ]It is singular that the same persons, who attack Lord Durham for courting, as they think, the extreme loyalist party, by giving appointments to members of it, are no less bitter against him for what, on the same principle, they should approve—for endeavouring to come to some arrangement with M. Papineau, which might recal him to his country, with a prospect of his aiding instead of impeding the measures in progress towards good government and tranquillity. We must express our unaffected astonishment that any man not a rabid Ultra-Tory—much more that Mr. Roebuck [in his “Lord Durham’s Administration in Canada: Letter II”]—should use language of the severest moral condemnation against Lord Durham on the imputation that, after holding forth M. Papineau to the world (say rather to Lord Glenelg) as a “leader and instigator of revolt” [Lambton, “Extract,” p. 913], he sent an agent to treat with him. Is an instigator of revolt a person beyond the pale of human intercourse? and is this the new doctrine of the friends of liberty? If Lord Durham did think M. Papineau a man who rebelled against an established government, is it not a recognised fact that such may be men of the purest intentions and of the most unblemished honour? Could Lord Durham have given stronger evidence of his anxiety to be just to the French Canadians than by seeking to enter into communication with the man who best understood and had most faithfully served their objects, and whose mistrust of the English government nothing but the most straightforward dealing could give him a chance to remove?
[* ]See [Mill, “Radical Party and Canada,”] London and Westminster Review for January last, pp. 518, 524-5, and the note to p. 526. [Pp. 421, 426-8, and 429n-30n above.]
[[*] ]See “Report on the Affairs of British North America, from the Earl of Durham,” PP, 1839, XVII, 411-68 (App. C).
[[†] ]See Charles Buller, Speech on Municipal Corporations (Ireland) (20 Feb., 1837), PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 36, cols. 698-701.
[[‡] ]See, for the “second measure,” “Report,” pp. 475-658 (App. D); for the third, pp. 676-90 (in App. E); for the fourth, pp. 660-73 (in App. E).
[[§] ]Lambton, “Proclamation,” p. 3.
[[*] ]See “Report,” pp. 110-16.
[[†] ]Cf. ibid., pp. 116-17.
[* ]It has been recently asserted that this part of Lord Durham’s plan has been given up. [See Roebuck, “Lord Durham’s Administration in Canada: Letter III,” pp. 1084-5, quoting a published letter by Adam Thom.] We should most deeply lament such an abandonment, and are convinced that it could only have been thought of, if at all, as a concession to some imaginary necessity. But the statement does not rest upon sufficient authority to entitle it to credence.
[[‡] ]See Roebuck, Speech on the Affairs of Canada (5 Feb., 1838), PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 40, col. 770; and John Russell, Speech on the Affairs of Canada (16 Jan., 1838), ibid., col. 11.
[[*] ]See Lambton, “Proclamation,” p. 3.
[[†] ]Leading Article on Canada, Morning Chronicle, 17 Oct., 1838, p. 2.
[[*] ]Lambton, “Proclamation,” p. 3.
[[†] ]Cf. Lamentations, 3:19.
[[‡] ]Leading Article on Lord Durham, Spectator, 10 Nov., 1838, p. 1053.
[[*] ]Lambton, “Proclamation,” p. 3.
[[*] ]Lambton, “Extract of a Despatch,” p. 913.