Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
August 2009

Documents de l’histoire du Québec / Quebec History Documents


Documents on Confederation


Let Us Have a Union Likely to Last



A recent article in these columns has produced a good deal of comment and some earnest protests. It seems almost to have excited alarm in some quarters, which was altogether unnecessary. We said then, and we repeat now, that any union between these colonies must be, as nearly as possible, a legislative union, with as small an infusion of the federal element as will meet the necessities of the case. We quoted to commend it, the statement of the Toronto Globe, that the federal legislature must have supreme authority – the others subordinate municipal jurisdiction. We re-assert these as fundamental principles on which the union must be based – or it will be rejected by the practical statesmanship, and the common sense of the great majority of the people of this country. Let us have a union likely to last, and not to break down like that of our neighbors from innate defects – or let us have none at all. That is the prevalent feeling among the most enlightened and least prejudiced people of British North America. All know the imperfections of the federal bond of union – the great difficulties which arise out of its complexity; and the conflict of powers arising out of their more or less faulty adjustment. History teems with them. When such a machine is set in motion, there must be some controlling influence; either centripetal power tending to consolidation, or centrifugal tending to separation. To found a union having it in the germs of disunion, is but a fool’s work – a blunder which only ignorance can excuse. These are our views – the result of long years of study, observation, and reflection. And yet we admitted before, as we admit now, that a legislative union pure et simple is out of the question. And we see this for two reasons – the one is as stated in the Toronto Globe, because there would be very great inconvenience in the legislation by the men of the Red River, or even of Western Canada, for the mere local wants of Cape Breton, and vice versa. Yet that were really not much more than is now experienced by the member for Kent or Lambton, or Huron and Bruce, voting on questions relating to Gaspe, or the members for Gaspe and Bonaventure legislating for Essex. But there is a question raised of certain rights and privileges, claimed by our French Canadian fellow countrymen. A sort of instinct of self-preservation urges them to protest against a process which they fear would swamp them entirely. For our part, we have no desire to see injustice done them – no wish even to show disrespect for feelings to which a certain amount of deference is due. Thus we have defended them from attack when others assailed them. And therefore it is that we have admitted that we do not believe a legislative union pure et simple could be made to work. The present secession in the United States only serves to show what even a small minority may do if pushed to the wall. We have always maintained the doctrine that in politics he is a dreamer who looks for theoretical perfection and is not content with possible and practical good. In accordance with that view we would accept such an admixture of the Federal principle as would satisfy the just claims of French Canadians – but not one whit more. And we pray them, as their best friends, not to be ill-advised – not to urge extravagant claims as grounds which may prevent this union. There are wheels within wheels, minorities within minorities. The French Canadians are a minority of the people of Canada and of British America; the British population of Lower Canada finds itself in a minority also. And if, in the project offered to the people, too great an extension is given to the Federal principle, – one making the separate Provinces really supreme, and controlling instead of subordinate to the central government – why then the British of Lower Canada and of the Ottawa country will join the men of the West – oppose federation altogether, and grant representation by population, pure et simple, as by far the less of the evils. There is no help for it. Unreasonable pretensions and obstinacy on the one part, will beget a similar spirit on the other. The crisis is a most important one – full of difficulties, requiring great tact and temper to overcome. But it is as well that the relations of the different sections of the community one to the other should be thoroughly understood at the outset. It may save blunders in the course of the negotiations now pending.


In conclusion, we wish to assure our French Canadian confreres who profess not to know just how much weight to give to our utterances that they have no official sanction whatever but we believe them to be a fair exposition of the opinions of a large majority of the British inhabitants of Lower and Central Canada.


Source: Montreal Gazette. September 2, 1864, p. 2. Article transcribed by Joelle Krasny; revision by Claude Bélanger

© 2009 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College