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Last revised:
23 August 2000

Report Of Lord Durham On the Affairs of British North America [1839]

Recommendations - Assimilation and Union (2)

But the period of gradual transition is past in Lower Canada. In the present state of feeling among the French population, I cannot doubt that any power which they might possess would be used against the policy and the very existence of any form of British government. I cannot doubt that any French Assembly that shall again meet in Lower Canada will use whatever power, be it more or less limited, it may have, to obstruct the Government, and undo whatever has been done by it. Time, and the honest co-operation of the various parties, would be required to aid the action of a federal constitution; and time is not allowed, in the present state of Lower Canada, nor co-operation to be expected from a legislature, of which the majority shall represent its French inhabitants. I believe that tranquillity [sic] can only be restored by subjecting the Province to the vigorous rule of an English majority; and that the only efficacious government would be that formed by a legislative union.

If the population of Upper Canada is rightly estimated at 400,000, the English inhabitants of Lower Canada at 150,000, and the French at 450,000, the union of the two Provinces would not only give a clear English majority, but one which would be increased every year by the influence of English emigration; and I have little doubt that the French, when once placed, by the legitimate course of events and the working of natural causes, in a minority, would abandon their vain hopes of nationality. I do not mean that they would immediately give up their present animosities, or instantly renounce the hope of attaining their end by violent means. But the experience of the two Unions in the British Isles may teach us how effectually the strong arm of a popular legislature would compel the obedience of the refractory population; and the hopelessness of success, would gradually subdue the existing animosities, and incline the French Canadian population to acquiesce in their new state of political existence. I certainly should not like to subject the French Canadians to the rule of the identical English minority with which they have so long been contending; but from a majority, emanating from so much more extended a source, I do not think they would have any oppression or injustice to fear; and in this case, the far greater part of the majority never having been brought in to previous collision, would regard them with no animosity that could warp their natural sense of equity. The endowments of the Catholic Church in Lower Canada, and the existence of all its present laws, until altered by the united legislature, might be secured by stipulations similar to those adopted in the Union between England and Scotland. I do not think that the subsequent history of British legislation need incline us to believe, that the nation which has a majority in a popular legislature, is likely to use its power to tamper very hastily with the laws of the people to which it is united.

The union of the two Provinces would secure to Upper Canada the present great objects of its desire. All disputes as to the division or amount of the revenue would cease. The surplus revenue of Lower Canada would supply the deficiency of that part of the upper Province; and the Province thus placed beyond the possibility of locally jobbing the surplus revenue, which it cannot reduce, would, I think, gain as much by the arrangement as the Province, which would thus find a means of paying the interest of its debt. Indeed it would be by-no means unjust to place this burthen on Lower Canada, inasmuch as the great public works for which the debt was contracted, are as much the concern of one Province as of the other. Nor is it to be supposed that, whatever may have been the mismanagement, in which a great part of the debt originated, the canals of Upper Canada will always be a source of loss, instead of profit. The completion of the projected and necessary line of public works would be promoted by such a union. The access to the sea would be secured to Upper Canada. The saving of public money, which would be ensured by the union of various establishments in the two Provinces, would supply the means of conducting the general Government on a more efficient scale than it has yet been carried on. And the responsibility of the executive would be secured by the increased weight which the representative body of the United Province would bring to bear on the Imperial Government and legislature.

But while I convince myself that such desirable ends would be secured by the legislative union of .the two Provinces, I am inclined to go further, and inquire whether all these objects would not. more surely be attained, by extending this legislative union over all the British Provinces in North America; and whether the advantages which I anticipate for two of them, might not, and should not in justice be extended over all. Such a union would at once decisively settle the question of races; it would enable all the Provinces to co-operate for ŕll common purposes; and, above all, it would form a great and powerful people, possessing the means of securing good and responsible government for itself, and which, under the protection of the British Empire, might in some measure counterbalance the preponderant and increasing influence of the United States on the American Continent. I do not anticipate that a colonial legislature thus strong and thus self-governing, would desire to abandon the connexion with Great Britain. On the contrary, I believe that the practical relief from undue interference, which would be the result of such a change, would strengthen the present bond of feelings and interests; and that the connexion would only become more durable and advantageous, by having more of equality, of freedom, and of local independence. But at any rate, our first duty is to secure the well-being of our colonial countrymen; and if in the hidden decrees of that wisdom by which this world is ruled, it is written, that these countries are not for ever to remain portions of the Empire, we owe it to our honour to take good care that, when they separate from us, they should not be the only countries on the American Continent in which the Anglo-Saxon race shall be found unfit to govern itself.

I am, in truth, so far from believing that the increased power and weight that would be given to these Colonies by union would endanger their connexion with the Empire, that I look to it as the only means of fostering such a national feeling throughout them as would effectually counterbalance whatever tendencies may now exist towards separation. No large community of free and intelligent men will long feel contented with a political system which places them, because it places their country, in a position of inferiority to their neighbours: .The colonist of Great Britain is linked, it is true, to a mighty Empire; and the glories of its history, the visible signs of its present power, and the civilization of its people, are calculated to raise and gratify his national pride. But he feels, also, that his link to that Empire is one of remote dependence; he catches but passing and inadequate glimpses of its power and prosperity; he knows that in its government he and his own countrymen have no voice. While his neighbour on the other side of the frontier assumes importance, from the notion that his vote exercises some influence on the councils, and that he himself has some share in the onward progress of a mighty nation, the colonist feels the deadening influence of the narrow and subordinate community to which he belongs. In his own, and in the surrounding Colonies, he finds petty objects occupying petty, stationary and divided societies; and it is only when the chances of an uncertain and tardy communication bring intelligence of what has passed a month before on the other side of the Atlantic, that he is reminded of the Empire with which he is connected. But the influence of the United States surrounds him on every side, and is for ever present. It extends itself as population augments and intercourse increases; it penetrates every portion of the continent into which the restless spirit of American speculation impels the settler or the trader; it is felt in all the transactions of commerce, from the important operations of the monetary system down to the minor details of ordinary traffic; it stamps, on all the habits and opinions of the surrounding countries, the common characteristics of the thoughts, feelings and customs of the American people. Such is necessarily the influence which a great nation exercises on the small communities which surround it. its thoughts and manners subjugate them, even when nominally independent of its authority. If we wish to prevent the extension of this influence, it can only be done by raising up for the North American colonist some nationality of his own; by elevating these small and unimportant communities into a society having some objects of a national importance; and by thus giving their inhabitants a country which they will be unwilling to see absorbed even into one more powerful.

While I believe that the establishment of a comprehensive system of government, and of an effectual union between the different Provinces, would produce this important effect on the general feelings of their inhabitants, I am inclined to attach very great importance to the influence which it would have in giving greater scope and satisfaction to the legitimate ambition of the: most active and prominent persons to be found in them. As long as personal ambition is inherent in human nature, and as long as the morality of every free and civilized community encourages its aspirations, it is one great business of a wise Government to provide for its legitimate development. If, as it is commonly asserted, the disorders of these Colonies have, in great measure, been fomented by the influence of designing and ambitious individuals, this evil will best be remedied by allowing such a scope for the desires of such men as shall direct their ambition into the legitimate chance of furthering, and not of thwarting, their Government. By creating high prizes in a general and responsible Government, we shall immediately afford the means of pacifying the turbulent ambitions, and of employing in worthy and noble occupations the talents which now are only exerted to foment disorder. We must remove from these Colonies the cause to which the sagacity of Adam Smith traced the alienation of the Provinces which now form the United States: we must provide some scope for what he calls ‘the importance’ of the leading men in the Colony, beyond what he forcibly terms the present ‘petty prizes of the paltry raffle of colonial faction’. A general legislative union would elevate and gratify the hopes of able and aspiring men. They would no longer look with envy and wonder at the great arena of the bordering federation, but see the means of satisfying every legitimate ambition in the high offices of the Judicature and executive Government of their own Union.

Nor would a union of the various Provinces be less advantageous in facilitating a co-operation for various common purposes, of which the want is now very seriously felt. There is hardly a department of the business of government which does not require, or would not be better performed, by being carried on under the superintendence of a general Government; and when we consider the political and commercial interests that are common to these Provinces, it appears difficult to account for their having ever been divided into separate Governments, since they have all been portions of the same Empire, subject to the same Crown, governed by nearly the same laws and constitutional customs, inhabited, with one exception, by the same race, contiguous and immediately adjacent to each other, and bounded along their whole frontier by the territories of the same powerful and rival State. It would appear that every motive that has induced the union of various Provinces into a single State, exists for the consolidation of these Colonies under a common legislature and executive. They have the same common relation to the mother country; the same relation to foreign nations. When one is at war, the others are at war; and the hostilities that are caused by an attack on one, must seriously compromise the welfare of the rest. Thus the dispute between Great Britain and the State of Maine, appears immediately to involve the interests of none of these Colonies, except New Brunswick or Lower Canada, to one of which the territory claimed by us must belong. But if a war were to commence on this ground, it is most probable that the American Government would select Upper Canada as the most vulnerable, or, at any rate, as the easiest point of attack. A dispute respecting the fisheries of Nova Scotia would involve precisely the same consequences. A union for common defence against foreign enemies is the natural bond of connexion that holds together the great communities of the world; and between no parts of any Kingdom or State is the necessity for such an union more obvious than between the whole of these Colonies.

Their internal relations furnish quite as strong motives for union. The Post Office is at the present moment under the management of the same Imperial establishment. If, in compliance with the reasonable demands of the Colonies, the regulation of a matter so entirely of internal concern, and the revenue derived from it, were placed under the control of the provincial legislatures, it would still be advisable that the management of the Post Office throughout the whole of British. North America should be conducted by one general establishment. In the same way, so great is the influence on the other Provinces of the arrangements adopted with respect to the disposal of public lands and colonization in any one, that it is absolutely essential .that this department of government should be conducted on one system, and by one authority. The necessity of common fiscal regulations is strongly felt by all the Colonies; and a common custom-house establishment would relieve them from the hindrances to their trade, caused by the duties now levied on all commercial intercourse between them. The monetary and banking system of all is subject to the same influences, and ought to be regulated by the same laws. The establishment of a common colonial currency is very generally desired. Indeed, I know of no department of government that would not greatly gain, both in economy and efficiency, by being placed under a common management. I should not propose, at first, to alter the existing public establishments of the different Provinces, because the necessary changes had better be left to be made by the united Government; and the judicial establishments should certainly not be disturbed until the future legislature shall provide for their re-construction, on an uniform and permanent footing. But even in the administration of justice, an union would immediately supply a remedy for one of the most serious wants under which all the Provinces labour, by facilitating the formation of a general appellate tribunal for all the North American Colonies.

But the interests which are already in common between all these Provinces are small in comparison with those which the consequences of such an union might, and I think I may say assuredly would, call into existence; and the great discoveries of modern art; which have throughout the world, and no where more than in America, entirely altered the character and the channels of communication between distant countries, will bring all the North American Colonies into constant and speedy intercourse with each other. The success of the great experiment of steam navigation across the Atlantic, opens a prospect of a speedy communication with Europe, which will materially affect the future state of all these Provinces. In a Dispatch which arrived in Canada after my departure, the Secretary of State informed me of the determination of Your Majesty's Goverment to establish a steam communication between Great Britain and Halifax; and instructed me to turn, my attention to the formation of a road between that port and Quebec. ,It wogld, indeed, have given me sincere satisfaction, had I remained in the Province, to promote, hy any means in my power, so highly desirable an object; and the removal of the usual restrictions on my authority as Governor-General, having given me the means of effectually acting in concert with the various provincial Governments, I might have been able to make some progress in the work. But I cannot point out more strikingly the evils of the present want of a general Government for these Provinces, than by adverting to the difficulty which would practically occur, under the previous and present arrangements of both executive and legislative authorities in the various Provinces, in attempting to carry such a plan into effect. For the various Colonies have no more means of concerting such common works with each other, than with the neighbouring States of the Union. They stand to one another in the position of foreign States; and. of foreign States without diplomatic relations. The Governors ; may correspond with each other: the legislatures may enact laws, carrying the common purposes into effect in their respective jurisdictions; but there is no means by which the various details may speedily and satisfactorily be settled with the concurrence of the different parties. And, in this instance, it must be recollected that the communication and the final settlement ' would have to be made between, not two, but several of the Provinces. The road would run through three of them; and Upper Canada, into which it would not enter, would; in fact, be more interested in- the completion of such a work than any even of the Provinces through which it would pass. The Colonies, indeed, have no common centre in which the arrangement could be made, except in the Colonial Office, at home; and the details of such a plan would have to be discussed just where the interests of all parties would have the least means of being fairly and fully represented, and where the minute local knowledge necessary for such a matter would be least likely to be found.

Source: C. P. LUCAS, Lord Durham’s Report on the Affairs of British North America, Oxford, Clarendon Press, pp. 306-318.

© 1999, Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis