Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
September 2009

Documents de l’histoire du Québec / Quebec History Documents


Quebec and Confederation


The Necessity of a Legislative Union


La Minerve in arguing for confederation as opposed to a closer union cites the Swiss confederation as a case in point. Now it seems to us that the position of that country is so entirely exceptional as hardly to furnish a fair example. Switzerland is kept together by the jealousies of the surrounding nations each unwilling to see any portion of it absorbed by another, by its peculiar geographical position and physical conformation, by a long course of historic memories and a very perfect and peculiar military organization. Remove the pressure from without and the cantons would forthwith fall asunder. As for the German confederation it is really no union at all – but the laughing stock of the rest of Europe. A weaker and more clumsy political organization the wit of man never devised, and all are now growing sick of it except the little princelings and their petty courts which have a vested interest in the insignificance of each individual state. They never united for anything and acted fairly and frankly in common. Prussia and her friends were always jealous of, acting against and jockeying Austria and her friends; and in this last outbreak of German nationality the two great states have united against all the rest and set the Diet and all the smaller states represented in it at defiance. Our contemporary required to ignore all these facts of the case ere it cited such a miserable failure as the German bund. And of all the errors we could commit in Canada none could be more fatal that to split Canada into little cantons such as those of Switzerland or little principalities such as those of Germany. Sooner or later absorption is their lot. Even as we write news comes of a design on the part of the Emperor of Austria and the King of Prussia to absorb all the petty states of Germany – to make but two empires of all – Northern and Southern Germany. And such would be our fate – absorption by the Federal States – if the British American colonies continue to be divided into petty municipalities. Le Canadien points this out in very explicit and sensible terms. Let us look farther back and see how an ancient Greek confederation furnished proof of the weakness of the federal tie. Let us look further South and see how Mexico and Central America have fallen into little bits or into anarchy with the same form of Government. History teems with instances to prove its insufficiency to bind a State together – to build up a great nation. How is it with our nearest neighbours? The Southerners claim with good show of reason that the separate States being sovereign and independent, they have a right to secede. After careful study of the history of their constitution, we agree with them in opinion. But while we agree with them in opinion, we also believe that it was a great mistake in the founders of the constitution – an inherent weakness in that instrument, that the States retained any such power. The greatest men – men such as Hamilton, foresaw the danger, and protested eloquently against it in the Federalist – but as matter of fact, their warnings were not sufficiently heeded, and either through the acceptance of a form in words in two different senses by different States, or by some shuffling, evasion or mental reservation, a constitution was adopted which fairly admitted of two interpretations. The Virginia and Kentucky resolutions show the meaning that the South entertained of the proper constitutional powers of a federal government. The trouble has arisen now out of this – that the federal government and congress have claimed to exercise a power, not over states or their internal government, but over the territories held in common, and over the commerce of the whole country, which the Southern States believed to be opposed to their interests, and such an infringement of their rights as to justify their secession. There must be a right of final decision on dispute points vested somewhere. It is a moot point between North and South where that is vested by the Constitution of the late United States. We wish to prevent any doubt or uncertainty among ourselves, any chance of such dissension hereafter – any pretext based on the very provisions of our constitution for a severance of the union, leading either to disunion or bloodshed. It were the height of folly, with such an example before us, to found here a union with the germs of its own destruction carefully planted in it. Therefore we desire to limit the powers of the local and separate provincial legislatures, if they are to be established, very strictly and explicitly. Therefore we advocate so earnestly either a legislative union with a constitutional recognition of a federal principle, if possible; or, if not, a federal union with the powers of a local legislation very distinctly defined and very strictly limited. Between these two forms of government there should be but little differences – except this, that the latter would be somewhat more expensive and involve a larger measure of direct taxation than the former.


Source: Montreal Gazette, September 9, 1864, p. 2. Article transcribed by Joelle Krasny; revision by Claude Bélanger



© 2009 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College