HC Deb 16 May 1849 vol 105 cc561-70

appeared at the bar, and, by Her Majesty's command, presented papers relative to the affairs of Canada.

On the question that the papers do He upon the table,


rose and said, he hoped in what he was about to do he should receive the pardon of the House, for the matter was of very great importance. The country had naturally been very much excited by the statements that had appeared in the public journals of the previous day; and he, in common with others, was startled by the intelligence. He had since received private information from a gentleman living in Canada, which might relieve in a great measure the anxiety of people who felt that a great colony was interested in the matter; and he hoped he should be excused for bringing that information before the House. The riot, it was well known, arose in consequence of a Bill which had passed both Houses of the Canadian Legislature for compensating persons who had incurred losses during the disturbances in 1837, and subsequently. It was known, also, that there being two sets of population, English and French, returning members to the same house, attempts had been constantly making to lead England to believe that all the questions in dispute were questions not simply of party, but of country or of race, between the French and English. He had in his hand a letter, which, with the permission of the House, he would read, and he had a statement of the divisions in the House of Assembly, and they ought to set at rest any doubt whether this was, as was often attempted to be made out, a question of race:—

Montreal, April 29, 1849. My dear Sir—You will no doubt be surprised at the Canadian news. At a time of profound peace the Governor General came down to Parliament to sanction some Bills which had passed the two Houses; among others the Bill which has caused so much excitement among our Tory population. To our surprise, regret, and indignation, not only was the Governor General insulted on the spot by being pelted with rotten eggs on passing in his carriage, but a meeting was got up on the spur of the moment summoned by fire-bells; inflammatory speeches were made, the mob hurried to the Parliament House, smashed the windows, drove out the members, seized the mace, and finally set fire to the building, which was wholly consumed, with our valuable library and all our records. The loss to the province is irreparable, and I fear our credit and character will suffer. The military were got out as soon as possible, but too late to prevent mischief. The ox-councillors adjourned to the Government-house, sat up all night, got magistrates who took depositions, and early in the morning the men who excited the mob were arrested. All now is quiet. There were other outrages on Thursday night; but the rioters were masked, at least the ringleaders, and are not known. I send you the votes of the House. You will see that Lord Elgin is fully sustained by the majority. I have analysed the division for you. In the first division you will find from Upper Canada 16 for Governmentj against 11; majority 5. AU these of course, are British. In Lower Canada, British, 5 for Government, 5 against; French Canadians 21 for Government, I against; "that one being his (Mr. Roebuck's) old friend, Mr. Papineau." On the final division there were 6 of British origin for, and 5 against, from Upper Canada; 14 for, and 10 against, from Lower Canada; of French Canadians 17 for, and 1 against. In a full house our majority would have been even much larger.

So it was even under the present state of things in Canada; and he should be very ready to say that the mode of election and the division of electoral districts was not what it ought to be; and some time or other he would detail to the House the endeavours to manage affairs in that country. The letter proceeded:— And yet this factious minority has had the insolence to demand the recall of our noble Governor General, whose just and impartial conduct has gained the affection of the mass of the Cana' dian people, as the addresses which will pour in during the next few weeks will prove. I want to make you aware of what is going on. Make the House of Commons understand the truth. The city of Montreal address will be signed by two-thirds of the inhabitants, including all the wealth and respectability of the city. The rabble is headed by bankrupt merchants, who have neither stake nor interest in the country, and who, though pretending great loyalty, would be rebels any moment to serve their own purposes. I write in great haste.

No doubt, at the present moment, alarm was created in Canada and in England, by a notion that "annexation was connected with these riots." At the present moment that was not the case; but he warned the House of Commons, lest they should by an injudicious interference with the conduct of the Government of Canada, and the opinions of the majority as expressed through their own representatives—he warned the House not to interfere with them, lest they should make the question of annexation one which should occupy the minds of the Canadian people. The present House of Assembly was made under the Act of Union—an Act passed much against his wishes and advice, for he told the House of Commons then, as he told it now, that whenever the question of annexation should arise, it would come from the English part of the population. But what he would say was this, that the money which this legislature was about to appropriate was the money of Canada, and not the money of England. It was about to appropriate it at the suggestion of an administration constituted by the votes of the majority of that legislature, and it had the sanction of the Crown. He had asked, on the previous day, whether this was not a Money Bill, which had received the previous sanction of the Crown. He assumed the facts to be, that the Earl of Elgin went out with certain general instructions and certain powers as Governor General. He represented Her Majesty there; and, in that Parliament, no Bill for the appropriation of money could be discussed without there being a Committee, exactly as in the British House of Commons; and the Minister must have come down, and, when he proposed the Committee, stated that he had the sanction of Her Majesty in making that proposal for 200,000l. [Mr. H AWES: 100,000l.]—100,000l., for purposes of which Her Majesty was cognisant.


rose to order. He exceedingly regretted to interrupt his hon. and learned Friend; but Wednesday being devoted to the business of independent Members, inconvenience would be caused if a debate arose upon Government measures before the first Order of the Day. This question would, probably, draw observations from other hon. Members, who were at issue with his hon. and learned Friend, and so a discussion would spring up which must necessarily occupy much time.


said, there was a question before the House, namely, whether the papers relative to the affairs of Canada should be laid upon the table. The hon. and learned Member for Sheffield was, therefore, perfectly regular. The only mode of effecting the object of the hon. Member for Berkshire, was by a Motion that the debate be adjourned; but such a Motion could not be made or entertained before the hon. and learned Gentleman had concluded his remarks.


accordingly resumed. His desire was to relieve the public anxiety, which he knew was very great; and he would at once close the remarks which he wished to make if it was the desire of the House that he should do so, for he did not wish to throw any obstacle in the way of hon. Members proceeding with their Bills; but he did assure the House that this was a much larger question than they imagined, and that they ought to take the first opportunity of obtaining all the information that was required to settle the public mind on the subject. He would confine himself as much as he could to a simple explanation of how the matter stood at present; and he hoped that in doing so he should not be supposed to be taking up unnecessarily the time of the House. He believed, then, that when the hon. Member for Berkshire interrupted him, he (Mr. Roebuck) was explaining that the parties who were chiefly responsible for bringing forward this subject were the Ministry of Canada. He could not imagine that the Colonial Office were not cognisant of all the facts of the case: they must have been aware of the state of things in Canada before the appearance of the papers which his hon. Friend the Under Secretary for the Colonies had sent round to hon. Members that morning, and which of themselves showed that the groundwork of this proposition was perfectly well known to the Colonial Office, and that it had their sanction and approval. He (Mr. Roebuck) could not now enter into a discussion whether this Compensation Bill was a right or a wrong measure. When the proper time came he should be quite prepared to justify the conduct of the head of the Colonial Office on that subject; but he did entreat the House to be cautious how they interfered in this matter against the determination and the natural and properly constituted expression of the feelings of the Canadian people. He hoped that the Legislature of this country would not interfere in such a way as to make this question what it was not—a question of races. With these observations he begged pardon for having occupied the time of the House.


Sir, I think it would be extremely inconvenient to raise, at this moment, any general discussion upon the subject adverted to by my hon. and learned Friend. The Government have taken the very earliest opportunity to lay the papers relating to Canada on the table of the House. I have only to-day been enabled to bring up a despatch from the Earl of Elgin, which it is intended should be circulated with the other papers having immediate reference to the events which have lately occurred in Canada; and I, therefore, think that it would not be fair to enter into a general discussion until hon. Members have had an opportunity of reading those papers, which, of course, I have had an opportunity of reading, but which they have not yet had time to peruse. Under these circumstances I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will not think I am acting discourteously towards him if I express my opinion that the House ought to wait until all these papers shall have been circulated, before they call upon Her Majesty's Government to enter into a full explanation of the recent events.


I entirely concur, both in the letter and in the spirit, with what has fallen from the hon. Gentleman opposite, the Under Secretary of State for the Colonies; but I am sorry to say that the remarks which fell from the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Sheffield are of that nature which I do not think it consistent with my duty to pass over altogether. I do not dispute the rectitude of the intentions of the hon. and learned Gentleman, nor do I deny at all the wisdom of endeavouring to calm the public mind of this country, and to warn individuals, and this House itself, against premature interference either in the affairs of Canada, or in any other public affairs whatever. But I am sorry to say that the hon. and learned Gentleman, whilst he has attempted to dissuade the House from such interference, and warned us against undertaking it, has himself, perhaps unconsciously, done much to prejudge the question—upon which he admits, and which I also feel, we are as yet imperfectly informed. I confess, when the first intelligence of these transactions reached this country, my mind, like that of many others, was deeply interested and deeply excited by it; but a review of that intelligence, imperfect as it is, convinced me that we were not and cannot be in possession of the merits of the case. We are not and cannot be in possession of the grounds necessary to form a judgment, either upon the Rebellion Losses Compensation Bill, or upon the conduct of my noble Friend the Earl of Elgin—a nobleman whose friendship I have had the honour to enjoy from his earliest youth, and of all whose acts I feel the strongest disposition beforehand to form the most favourable judgment. Until we shall be put in possession both of the Earl of Elgin's own despatches, stating the grounds of those proceedings, and likewise of the previous history of the case, and of the principles which may or may not have guided the former acts of legislature, we shall not be able to form a judgment. For this reason, for many weeks past, and indeed so lately as yesterday, I have abstained from putting any question, or taking any part in this matter, which might have a tendency to produce excitement. And now, Sir, I shall endeavour strictly to confine myself to the observation of the rule I have laid down, whilst I notice some words which have fallen from the hon. and learned Gentleman. I shall endeavour to avoid anything that may be in contravention of it. The hon. and learned Gentleman warns this House against interfering with the Rebellion Losses Compensation Bill; and upon what principle? If he gives that warning upon the ground of the imperfect information which we possess, I heartily concur with him; and, for one, I will give no opinion upon the Bill, or upon the conduct of the Earl of Elgin, or the conduct of Her Majesty's Government. But when I hear the hon. and learned Gentleman, not content with warning us against interference now, laying down a principle as the ground of his warning, which principle will be as good when we are fully informed, as it is now, when we are imperfectly informed; and when I hear the hon. and learned Gentleman say, "the people of Canada have been voting the money of Canada, and therefore I warn you not to interfere," I protest against a doctrine which interferes with the supremacy of this country over all imperial concerns. Why, Sir, it might be that England might be at war with some foreign Power, and that some colonial legislature might be found voting a subsidy to that foreign Power. Would that be a reason, because it is a question of the money of the colony, and not the money of this country, against the interference of this House? I confine myself strictly to this point. I protest against the warning of the hon. and learned Gentleman, and I contend that this House has a perfect right to interfere in all imperial concerns. It is a question of policy, wisdom, and prudence, whether this House will interfere or not; but the fact of the money concerned in this Bill being the money of Canada, will not be, of itself, a conclusive reason against our interference, provided our interference shall seem, upon other grounds, to be called for. Then the hon. and learned Gentleman gives an analysis of the divisions in the House of Assembly, and perhaps he has demonstrated thereby that this question, which now disturbs and agitates Canada, is not a question of race. Again, I will give no opinion whether it is a question of race, or whether it is not; hut I tell the hon. and learned Gentleman that the statements he has read do not touch the point at issue. I have read much in the public journals and private communications upon the subject. I have seen a hundred times over the allegation that this question is a question of race. But never once have I seen it stated that it is a question of race in the House of Assembly. The hon. and learned Gentleman may have demonstrated it as not a mere question of race there. Everybody knew that the French Members of the House—the Members of French origin—were in a minority in that House, and that the question of whether this is a question of race was not within the walls of the assembly, but without. That question we shall have to consider when we are in possession of full information; but, in the mean time, I must tell the hon. and learned Gentleman he has done nothing whatever towards elucidating or settling the question. The hon. and learned Gentleman says, that this measure—for I must vindicate the right of the House of Commons, although I will not go one step further—and he says truly—was introduced into the Canadian Parliament with the sanction of the Crown. I apprehend that about that there can be no doubt whatever. Being a matter involving money, it would have been impossible, according to the constitutional forms of the province, to have introduced it without the sanction of the Crown. The sanction of the Crown means the sanction of the responsible Ministers of the Crown. It matters not one rush whether there were previous instructions or not. The responsibility of the Government for the acts of the Earl of Elgin is also unquestioned and undeniable; but the hon. and learned Gentleman must see that, if the sanction of the Crown is required in matters affecting the government of the colony, the very effect of that sanction, so required to be given, must bring them under the cognisance and jurisdiction of this House. I am sure the hon. and learned Gentleman will review the grounds which induce him to think that under no circumstances should there be any interference by this House. I do not enter into the question whether there should be any interference or not; but I protest against alleging these general grounds, which would exclude, at all times and under all circumstances, the interference of this House, and hinder the right and the duty of this House to have supervision over all colonial affairs; although I should accompany the hon. and learned Gentleman all lengths in asserting the principle that our interference ought to be strictly limited to matters that are of imperial concern, and that the discretion of the local authorities ought to be left entire and unimpaired over matters that are not imperial. I, like others, have received this morning papers containing a full history of the previous proceedings in this case; but I have not been able as yet, since I got them, to make myself fully acquainted with their contents. I trust hon. Members will, before arriving at a conclusion upon this question, upon one side or the other, feel it an imperative and solemn duty to examine, with the most dispassionate care, every step of those proceedings; and that they will pass no judgment whatever upon the Executive in the colony, or upon the conduct of Her Majesty's Ministers here, until they have carefully examined the whole of the papers, and endeavoured therefrom to form a wise and dispassionate conclusion.


I should regret if any further discussion were to arise upon this subject, with the imperfect information that we necessarily possess upon the details of these transactions. I do not rise myself to continue the discussion. I only wish to state that I did not consider the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Sheffield to deny the right of this House to interfere. [Mr. ROEBUCK: Hear, hear!] I agree with the right hon. Gentleman in thinking that right is unquestionable. The power which the Crown has of disallowing any colonial act, after it has received the consent of the Governor General, necessarily implies the right of Parliament to tender its advice to the Crown with regard to the exercise of the prerogative. I really do not think there is any difference between the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the university of Oxford and the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield in their views as to the right of Parliament, although they have expressed themselves in different language. If I had understood the hon. and learned Gentleman to deny that right, I should have felt it my duty to protest against it as much as the right hon. Gentleman. But I only understood him to caution the House of Commons against hastily, and without some necessity, interfering, and not to deny its jurisdiction. I hope, therefore, the discussion will now end, and that it will not he resumed until Parliament is in possession of the fullest information.


If I said the hon. and learned Gentleman denied the right of Parliament to interfere, I am not aware of it; but if I did so, I did him an injustice. The hon. and learned Gentleman did not deny the right of this House to interfere. What I meant was, that I did not look to any abstract doctrine he laid down, but to the reason he gave for not interfering, that this was the money of the colony, and that, therefore, they had, upon that ground a right to spend it as they thought proper.


hoped the House would not proceed without information. The question was between those who had defended the connexion between Canada and this country, and those who had sought to destroy that connexion. The hon. and learned Member for Sheffield had given M. Papineau's version of the division, and he wished to guard the House against it.


said, the analysis he had given was of the names as they had voted.


thanked the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield for having given the House information which tended to calm the feelings of the country upon this matter. He had also warned the House against any rash and inconsiderate proceedings. This he (Mr. Deni-son) thought was likely to give an impression to the country that something had occurred in the House which showed a disposition to act in that manner. That would be a very false impression; for nothing had occurred which showed that the House was disposed to act either hastily or inconsiderately.

The papers were then laid on the table.

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