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The rendezvous of the rebels was on Yonge Street, a few miles north of Toronto. On the 4th of December, 1837, some eight hundred insurgents had assembled. The country was certainly very apathetic. Toronto, a town of twelve thousand people, had no defenders, and the rebels might easily have taken possession of it. No action being taken, time was given for Colonel Allan MacNab and the men of Gore district to arrive at Toronto for its defence. A skirmish ensued, in which the rebels were scattered, and Mackenzie, with £1,000 reward upon his head, became an exile. A toilsome and dangerous journey led the arch-rebel to the United States, by way of the Niagara River. The provisional government was organized on Navy Island. The patriot flag, with twin stars and the motto “Liberty and Equality,” was then given to the breeze. A daring action, which threatened international complications, was the cutting out the steamer “Caroline” from under the guns of Fort Schlosser, an American vessel, which was, on capture, sent adrift over the falls of Niagara. This was done by a band under Captain Drew, an officer of MacNab's command, and was participated in by one Macleod, who by his action gave his name to a famous case in the diplomacy of the United States and Great Britain. Other slight skirmishes brought the Upper Canadian rebellion to an end.2
The wrongs which led to the rebellion may justly be laid at the door of the Family Compact. Both in Upper and Lower Canada there was a direct refusal, in the existence of the executive and legislative councils, which were crown-appointed, to acknowledge the popular will. Undoubtedly the most beneficial results followed these rebellions. They broke down the unfair system of governing French Canada ; they sounded the knell of Family Compactism in Upper Canada; but they reflect no glorynot even credit on those who led them. Mackenzie, by constitutional means, by patiently awaiting the tide which had turned in his favor, might have secured all that was obtained. Desolated homes, himself and his compatriots in exile, hatreds and bitter feelings which took a score of years to allay, might all have been avoided, had more pacific and considerate counsels prevailed.
The rebellions in Canada led to a rude awakening of the authorities in London. Too often it has been the case in colonial affairs that only after serious injury has been done is attention paid to the storm of discontent. The young Queen Victoria had just ascended the throne, and her reign was to be one of benevolence. A brilliant young statesman of Britain, of the liberal school, was sent to Canada as governor-general in 1838, to study the wants of Canada and recommend a remedy for the grievances. This was John George Lambton, better known as the Earl of Durham, a cultivated, keen-sighted man, albeit somewhat sybaritic in his habits. Amid much splendor the new governor arrived in Quebec. A difficulty met him on the very threshold. This was the disposal of the prisoners taken in the Lower
1 See ante, VII. 494. ? On the battle of Fighting Island (Detroit River), see Michigan Pioneer Collections, vii. 89.
VOL. VIII. - II
Canadian rebellion. Intending it as a merciful expedient, Lord Durham, contrary to the law of the land, exiled sixteen of these rebels, including Wolfred Nelson, sending them to Bermuda. His political enemies in Britain were not slow to take advantage of the earl's mistake. They contemptuously denounced him as the “Lord High Seditioner," and made out so clear a case that the home government was compelled to disallow his exile ordinance. This stung to the quick the mettlesome governor, and led him into the grave error of publicly attacking his British superiors, and made his stay in Canada but a short one. Notwithstanding this irritation and his delicate health, Lord Durham undertook his work with immense energy and rare skill. No one in the whole range of colonial governors ever showed such keen insight into Canadian affairs and was so fertile in expedients to remedy the evils. The report which was prepared by the earl, with his band of skilled assistants, chief of whom was Mr. Charles Buller, is, with its elaborate appendices, a monument of wonderful industry and acuteness. It declares “that the same grievances to a large extent prevail in all the provinces; while the present state of things is allowed to last, the actual inhabitants of these provinces have no security for person or property, no enjoyment of what they possess, no stimulus to industry.” These were strong words, but they were equalled by the decided opinion expressed of Lower Canada. While Lord Durham admired the French-Canadians for their mildness and amiability, he saw danger to the state in their being “an utterly uneducated and singularly inert population.” “They remain," he continued, “an old and stationary society in a new and progressive world.” He boldly asserted that “in Lower Canada the real struggle was not one of principles but of race.” The report stated that in all the colonies "there was a collision between the executive and representative bodies." Lord Durham struck the keynote of the reforms of later years in declaring that “since 1688 the stability of Britain had depended on the responsibility of the government to the majority of the legislature."
Lord Durham's report suggested a union of all the provinces, and was thus the prophecy of confederation, though for immediate action the union of Upper and Lower Canada only was recommended, and the establishment in united Canada of a responsible government. No grander work was ever done for Canada than the writing of this report. John Stuart Mill spoke of it as “laying the foundation of the political and social prosperity not of Canada only, but of all the other colonies of Great Britain.” Justin McCarthy, in his History of Our Own Times, thus sums up Lord Durham's mistakes and successes : “But if Lord Durham's personal career was in any way a failure, his policy for the Canadas was a splendid success. It established the principle of colonial government. One may say, with little help from the merely fanciful, that the rejoicings of emancipated colonies might have been in his dying ears as he sank into his early grave."
In 1839 Lord John Russell introduced a bill into parliament embodying Lord Durham's suggestions; but before its final passage a messenger was sent to Canada to feel the pulse of the provinces regarding it. The envoy charged with this delicate task was an English merchant, John Poulett Thomson, and well did he accomplish his work. In Lower Canada the legislative assembly had been suspended during the rebellion, and its substitute, a crown-appointed body, accepted the act because it emanated from the Colonial office, and this without consulting the French-Canadians. In Upper Canada it needed all the commissioner's skill to gain its acceptance. The loyalists, flushed with their victory over the rebels, were in no humor to give up any advantage, which they saw must be done should the radicals of Upper Canada, aided by the vast majority of Lower Canada, be banded against them. A strong appeal to their patriotism, however, at length gained their consent. After this consultation with the provinces the matter again came up in the British parliament, and the "Act to reunite the provinces of Upper and Lower Canada” became law, July 23, 1840. The chief new features of the measure passed were that the legislative assembly was to consist of an equal number of members from Upper and from Lower Canada. The English language alone was to be used in parliament, but this was modified in after years. A new, fixed civil list was made, over which the assembly had no control, and ecclesiastical rights also were under the immediate protection of the crown, while the assembly was given exclusive power to levy taxes. The "burning question " in the minds of the people was the direct control of the executive by the legislature. This was not specifically declared in the new act, but there was a proviso that the governor should only exercise power according to instructions from Her Majesty. The intention of this provision was shown shortly after by a despatch received by the governor-general in 1841, that "the governor must only oppose the wishes of the assembly when the honor of the crown or the interests of the empire are deeply concerned."
The people waited now with anxious expectation to see whether their long struggle for liberty was really to be fruitless, for experience had shown them that fair promises were often deceptive. The various elements of the people received the new constitution in different ways. The moderate opponents of the Family Compact were delighted with the changes; the rebel party of Upper Canada were only partially satisfied ; the French-Canadians of Lower Canada showed their want of appreciation of the act by sending a petition signed by 40,000 persons to the imperial parliament against it; while the loyalists were naturally nervous lest all their privileges should be shorn away by the new measure, which they thought the outcome of the democratic tendencies of Lord Durham.
The golden mean had evidently been gained, and the astute commissioner, Mr. Thomson, was raised to the peerage as Lord Sydenham, by an appreciative government in London.
The influx of British colonists not only to Upper and Lower Canada, but to the maritime provinces, more especially to New Brunswick, was very great during the years from 1830 to 1850. The two years of the rebellion, 1837 and 1838, checked somewhat the flow that was setting in with such force, but the passage of the Union Act immediately restored confidence abroad. The introduction of the new constitution was looked to with great expectancy by the people of both provinces concerned. The chief responsibility fell upon Lord Sydenham, who was a nervous and delicate man. Pursuing a most conciliatory policy, he chose his cabinet from the moderate members of both sides of politics. The champion of the moderate liberals was Robert Baldwin, a man of high character and equable disposition, and whose name has a sweet odor in Canada even to this day. With him was associated as a moderate loyalist Mr., afterwards Chief Justice,
Draper. As a condition of support from the opposite side, Draper was pressed to declare his policy on the question of responsible government. There being only seven of the now discredited Family Compact in a house of eighty-four, Draper temporized.
Lord Sydenham survived but long enough to see the new constitution fairly at work, and passed away amid general regret. His successor lived only two years, but in 1843 came a ruler of the old oligarchic type.
This was Governor Metcalfe, who had filled important posts in India and Jamaica
He derided the very theory of responsible govern
ment so dear to the Canadians. LORD SYDENHAM.*
In speaking of the restriction of
his powers, he declared his position to be no better than that of "an Indian governor compelled to rule by means of a Mahommedan ministry and a Mahommedan parliament.” Egerton Ryerson, who had been looked to as an exponent of liberty, was found among Governor Metcalfe's apologists. The governor, having previously differed with the great commoner Robert Baldwin, as to the question of responsibility, brought on a crisis in the autumn of 1843 by making an appointment without the advice of his council. The ministry at once resigned, and suitable successors were only found with difficulty. The governor, however, succeeded in keeping the favor of his superiors in London, who raised him to the peerage, but he had so evidently lost public respect in Canada that he soon after resigned and returned to Britain.
* After a plate in George Poulett Scrope's Life of Charles, Lord Sydenham, 2d ed. (London, 1854).
In the provinces by the sea a similar struggle took place. In Nova Scotia an oligarchy held sway. This was also known as the Family Compact. Against an arbitrary governor, Sir Colin Campbell, who refused to be advised by the assembly, and chose as members of the executive and legislative councils only his own creatures, popular feeling ran high. To both Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, after the reception of Lord Durham's report in 1839, had been sent by Lord Russell a despatch containing the new Canadian constitution. Sir John Harvey, governor of New Brunswick, had commended it as worthy of imitation in the maritime provinces. New Brunswick, which had from the first been exclusively loyalist in opinion, rejected this suggestion.
MAJOR-GENERAL SIR JOHN HARVEY.* In Nova Scotia, Sir Colin shamelessly suppressed the despatch. A man of great influence among the people had been for three or four years rising to prominence in the legislative assembly of Nova Scotia. This was Joseph Howe, the son of a United Empire loyalist. In 1840 the Nova Scotian assembly, led by Howe, passed four resolutions upholding the doctrine of responsible government and declaring want of confidence in the executive. The stern soldiergovernor declared his advisers satisfactory to himself, and refused any advice. At length the assembly was compelled to request from Britain the governor's recall. This took place, and Viscount Falkland came as successor. Foot by foot the battle of responsibility was fought, till at length in Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick as well, the same principles prevailed as those which had been secured in Canada.
The general election of 1844 in Canada, on account of Lord Metcalfe's interference, resulted in a small majority being returned for the loyalist party, who now sought to adjust themselves to the new conditions. In the next year in the assembly came a claim, because for the first time since the rebellion the loyalists were in power. This was for losses incurred by loyal subjects during the rebellion. An amount of £10,000 was voted for the loyalists of Upper Canada. As was natural, from Lower Canada came a similar demand, as there the rebellion had been much more widespread and the destruction of property greater. In fairness this could not be refused, and yet the loyalists of Upper Canada charged that so general had
* From plate in Sir Richard Henry Bonnycastle's Newfoundland in 1842 (London, 1842). He was successively governor of New Brunswick, Newfoundland, and Nova Scotia.