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Accession of Queen Victoria page 3

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Lord Durham at once resigned, and was succeeded by Mr. Powlett Thompson, afterwards Lord Sydenham, who fully adopted his enlightened policy, which was ably expounded in an important report, said to be from the pen of Mr. Charles Buller. It was characterised by profound statesmanship, and was the basis of the sound policy which has made united Canada a great and flourishing state. Sir "William Molesworth, a philosophic statesman, who wrote much of colonial questions, had strongly advocated the abandonment of our American colonies, and contended that the advantages of an amicable separation between the two countries would be great. He thought that their proximity to the United States would always make them a source of weakness, the central government of the Union not being able to control the action of American citizens in spreading disaffection. He was correct enough in his views so far as the Union is concerned, but greatly miscalculated the effect of American sympathy upon Canadian loyalty, when he said, "How powerful soever the central government of the United States may be when it goes along with the wishes of the people, it is most feeble when the people are opposed or indifferent to its commands, or when one or more of the sovereign states are desirous of evading its decrees. How anxious soever it may be, from general views of policy, to prevent all interference with the affairs of Canada - all hostilities with this country - yet its people will see in this struggle but a repetition of their own glorious struggle for independence; they will behold in the conduct of England towards Canada the sequel of those despotic and unjust principles which, a little more than half a century ago, caused them to shake off our yoke." Lord Durham and Mr. Buller differed from Sir W. Molesworth in their view of the colonial question. The former considered that the "experiment of keeping colonies and governing them well ought at least to have a fair trial ere we abandon for ever the vast dominions which might supply the wants of our surplus population, and raise up millions of fresh consumers of our manufactures and of producers of a supply for our wants. The warmest admirers and the strongest opponents of republican institutions, admit or assert that the amazing prosperity of the United States is less owing to their form of government than to the unlimited supply of fertile land, which maintains succeeding generations in an undiminishing affluence of fertile soil. A region as large and as fertile," said Lord Durham, " is open to your majesty's subjects in your majesty's American dominions." Events have completely justified the policy advocated by him and fortunately adopted by the imperial government.

It would have been well if the home government and the parliament had not controlled and humiliated him in the fulfillment of his mission; for in respect to the rebellion the events which immediately followed his departure vindicated, at least, the prudence of his policy. He sailed from Quebec on the 1st of November; and the returned prisoners from Bermuda showed their sense of the leniency with which they had been treated by immediately re-organising the rebellion. Four hundred insurgents captured Mr. Ellis, a large landed proprietor, and carried him off as a hostage. A body of rebels had taken up a position at Lough-Na-Waga, an Indian village. The Indians were at church, but hearing of the presence of the insurgents, they immediately raised the war-whoop, attacked, and dispersed them, making seventy prisoners. Four thousand insurgents had assembled at Napier Ville, under the command of Wolfred Nelson, Dr. Cote, and others, but in a few days they retired, having issued a proclamation of independence, with a republican form of government, the confiscation of the crown lands and the clergy reserves, &c. In their retreat they attacked a much smaller body of loyalists, who had taken possession of the church of Odelle, but these brave men repulsed them, killing fifty and wounding twice that number. Sir John Colborne, the commander-in-chief, who had, on Lord Durham's departure, assumed provisionally the government of the colonies, bore witness, in his despatches, to the humane and creditable conduct of the insurgents; for, though they were at first 12,000 strong, and had Mr. Ellis and nearly 100 loyalists in their power for several days, no deeds of cruelty were perpetrated, and when the insurrection was suppressed, the prisoners were released, and shown the shortest way to rejoin their friends. The American sympathisers made an aggressive movement on the 12th of November, when a body of 500, with several pieces of artillery, crossed the St. Lawrence at Prescott, where they were attacked by three armed steamers, under Captain Sandon, R.N., and Colonel Young, and compelled to retire," when they took up their position in a stone house, from which they could not be dislodged till reinforcements came, with three or four guns under Dundas. After a sharp contest, the place was evacuated, the British having taken 159 prisoners, of whom 131 were Americans. Other attempts were made during the month of December by the "sympathisers," but they were all defeated, and before the end of the year hostilities were terminated; not, however, without the loss of a number of valuable lives on both sides, which strikingly illustrated the fact that there is neither mercy nor humanity in undue leniency at the commencement of an insurrection. Vigorous action, and a stern execution of the law, may save the lives of hundreds, and prevent the horrors of a civil war. The government had now to deal with 753 political prisoners, who were British subjects. Of these only twelve of the principal offenders were ultimately brought to trial, of whom ten were sentenced to death, but only two, Cardinal and Duguette, were executed. The persons convicted of treason, or political felony, in Upper Canada, from the 1st of October, 1837, to the 1st of November, 1838, were disposed of as follows: - pardoned on giving security, 140; sentenced to confinement in penitentiary, 14; sentenced to banishment, 18; transported to Van Diemen's land, 27; escaped from Fort Henry, 12. The American prisoners had been sent to Kingston, and tried by court-martial on the 24th of November. Four of them were sentenced to death, and executed, complaining of the deception that had been practised on them with regard to the strength of the anti-British party, and the prospects of the enterprise. Five others were subsequently found guilty and executed. The American government, though deprecating those executions on grounds of humanity, disclaimed all sanction or encouragement of such piratical invasions, and denied any desire on its part for the annexation of Canada.

Out of these troubles arose a new state of things, a new era of peace and prosperity. Lord Durham saw that disaffection and disturbance had arisen from the animosity of race and religion, exasperated by favoritism in the government, and the dispensation of patronage through " a family compact." He recommended a liberal, comprehensive, impartial, and unsectarian policy, with the union of the two provinces under one legislature. It was a revolution quite unexpected by both parties. The disaffected French Catholics feared, as the consequence of their defeat, a rule of military repression; the British Protestants hoped for the firm establishment of their ascendancy. Both were disappointed - the latter very painfully, when, notwithstanding their efforts and sacrifices for the maintenance of British power, they saw Papineau, the arch-traitor, whom they would have hanged, attorney - general in the new government. But Papineau was backed by a strong party of radical reformers in the House of Commons, and Mr. Roebuck, who acted as agent for the Canadians, was his ardent advocate. In one of his vehement speeches on the Canadian question, he said, " Sir, I am not one of those who have been in the habit of deserting a friend in need. In his most prosperous days I have thought myself honoured by the friendship of Mr. Papineau; and when I review the political career of that man, raised, as he has been, to eminence by the sole power of his intellect, without the employment of one single disgraceful proceeding, I look in vain through the whole of that career for one act which deserves reprobation. True it is that he denounced, in strong language, the conduct of your colonial administration. I myself have equally condemned that administration. And if there be guilt in saying that Canada has been ill governed, that grievances have been left unredressed, that her oppressors are men ever cruel and now exasperated, I, sir, am willing to partake of that guilt. Talk to me of being frightened at being called a traitor, at being told that my life is forfeited, at the newspapers setting forth that I am to be sent to the Tower! The government organs and other portions of the press have endeavoured to excite the people against me, and to induce them to believe that I and, my friends could desire that which England must view as dishonourable. Do you think that I am to be frightened by such petty warfare? If I be guilty, why are there not some who dare accuse me lawfully? My papers have been seized: let them be produced. I have not run away, because I know that there is a jury in England who will render justice to the accused."

The new constitution was proclaimed in Canada on the 10th of February, 1841; and the admirable manner in which it has worked proves that Lord Durham, its author, was one of the greatest benefactors of the colony, as he had been of the mother country by his labours in bringing about the revolution embodied in the Reform, Act. The contrast which he remarked and so well de- scribed between the two banks of the St. Lawrence, resulting from self-government on one side, and the want of it on the other, no longer exists. "The superiority," said he, " of the condition of our neighbours is perceivable throughout the whole extent of our North American territory. Even the ancient city of Montreal will not bear a comparison with- Buffalo, a creation of yesterday. There is but one railroad in all British North America - that between Lake Champlain and the St. Lawrence - and it is only fifteen miles long. The people on the frontier are poor and scattered, separated by vast forests, without towns or markets, and almost destitute of roads, living in mean houses, and with no apparent means of improving their condition. On the American side, on the other hand, all is activity and bustle. The forest has been widely cleared; every year numerous settlements are formed, and thousands of farms created out of the waste. The country is intersected by common roads; canals and rail-roads are finished or in the course of formation. The observer is surprised at the number of harbours on the lakes and the multitude of vessels they contain, while bridges, artificial landing-places, and commodious wharfs, are formed in all directions as soon as required. Good houses, mills, inns, warehouses, villages, towns, and even great cities, almost seem to spring out of the desert. Every village has its school-house and place of public worship; every town has many of both, with its town ship buildings, book-stores, and probably one or two banks, and newspapers; and the cities, with their fine churches, great hotels, great exchanges, court-houses, and municipal halls of stone and marble, so new and fresh as to mark the recent existence of the forest where they now stand, would be admired in any part of the world."

This contrast between the effects of the two forms of government was almost sufficient to justify the insurrection; and upon the heads of the parties who resisted the reform of the old system of colonial misgovernment, rests much of the guilt involved in the destruction of life on both sides during the struggle.

On the 1st of December, shortly after the opening of Parliament, Lord John Russell introduced another question of great urgency - the relief of the Irish poor. After going through, and commenting on, the several recommendations of the Inquiry Commissioners, and noticing the objections to which they were all more or less open, he explained, by way of contrast, the principles on which the present bill was founded, much in the same manner that he had done on the first introduction of the measure. The statement was generally well received, although there were some marked exceptions in this respect; and the bill was read a first time without a division. It was, in like manner, read a second time on the 5th of February, 1838; but, on the motion for going into committee, on the 9th, Mr. O'Connell strongly opposed it, and moved that it be committed that day six months. The amendment was, however, negatived by 277 to 25, a majority which made the passing of the measure in some form pretty certain. On the 23rd of February, the question of settlement was again very fully discussed, and its introduction opposed by 103 to 31, the latter number comprising all that could be brought to vote for a settlement law of any kind. The vagrancy clauses were for the present withdrawn from the bill, on the understanding that there would hereafter be a separate measure for the suppression of mendicancy. The bill continued to be considered in successive committees until the 23rd of March, when, all the clauses having been gone through and settled, it was ordered to be reported, which was done on the 9th of April. On the 30th April the bill was read a third time and passed by the Commons, and on the day following was introduced and read a first time in the Lords.

Mr. Nicholls (afterwards Sir George) was desired to proceed during the vacation to Holland and Belgium, with a view of ascertaining whether there was anything in the institutions of those countries that might be turned to account in constructing the Irish system. He was accompanied by Dr. Kay, afterwards Sir J. Kay Shuttle- worth, then one of the Assistant Commissioners, who devoted his attention chiefly to education, on which he made an interesting report. With regard to a provision for the poor, they found little worthy of imitation. At Amsterdam the dirt and disorder of the day-rooms were very offensive. In these rooms the inmates took their meals, without any attention to regularity or propriety. Both men and boys were clothed in a coarse kind of sacking; their chief article of diet was rye bread, almost black, and not over-abundant, with an indefinite quantity of boiled butter-milk. They were permitted to work at certain rates of wages, with which they purchased coffee, tobacco, gin, &c. On entering the day-room, the visitors beheld a motley scene. Some paupers were working at the looms, or at other occupations. Here, a group of men were seated at a table, playing cards; there, another group playing at draughts; and a third at hazard; while others were idly sauntering up and down the room. The women's day-room presented a scene of similar disorder. The Belgian workhouses were superior, in their internal arrangements, to those of Holland.

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