Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

!

INTRODUCTORY.

A “New Nationality'* was created in British North America under an Act of the Imperial Parliament, on the first day of July, A.D. 1867. It was named the DOMINION OF CANADA, and included, prospectively, all the possessions of the British Crown in America. At present, the colony of Newfoundland is the only British American territory south of Hudson's Straits which has not been definitively added to the Dominion. The territorial extent of the Dominion, including Newfoundland, is estimated at 3,600,000 square miles, or about one-half of the North American continent, omitting Mexico. The population thus united under one general government, with its legislative and executive departments at Ottawa, in the Province of Ontario, may be reckoned (including Indians and the population of Newfoundland) at 4,000,000. The great Confederation, which rules the central part of North America, began its career about one hundred years ago with a population of not more than four millions, exclusive of Indians. In some other elements of national strength it was inferior to the new Confederation of the North. Our mercantile marine, our public works, our Federal revenues, our exports and imports, &c., far exceed those of the American Confederation at the end of its first decade. Starting with the advantage of numerous discoveries and improvements in every department of human industry; with greater facilities for immigration from the old world, and stronger motives impelling its crowded populations to emigrate, may we not safely predict that the Dominion of Canada will increase in

** I congratulate you on the legislative sanction which has been given by the Imperial Parliament to the Act of Union, under the provisions of which we are now assembled, and which has laid the foundation of a new nationality, that I trust and believe will ere long extend its bounds from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean.Lord Monck's Speech on opening the first Dominion Parliament, November, 1867.

numbers, in wealth, in naval and military strength, and in material and intellectual resources of every kind more rapidly than her southern rival ? That even with the draw back of a northern climate, she will not require one hundred years to command fifty millions of subjects?

The fulfilment of this prediction depends in a great degree upon the wisdom, energy, and statesmanship of the present generation of Canadians. Many, who are well informed, believe that the centre of population, if not the seat of Empire, will, in less than fifty years, be found west of Lake Superior. The annals of a nation

. or people who have achieved success in the battle of life; who have conquered the wild and gloomy wastes of nature, and converted them into smiling fields and happy homesteads; who have built cities and towns and public works, rivalling those of civilized Europe; who have established more schools, and colleges, and universities, and places of Worship, in proportion to population, than any other people of modern times; who have founded free institutions, and stable governments, and equal laws in a territory larger than that which acknowledged the power of Rome, when she called herself mistress of the world, ought to be preserved in chronological order, and digested with care and impartiality. They will be interesting to posterity, and may prove useful and instructive, even to contemporaries. They will guide the historian in his researches; they will help him to winnow the chaff from the wheat, and in many instances furnish him with the most trustworthy materials for his connected narrative.* An intelligible history of the social, commercial, and political events which preceded and ended in Confederation would, of itself, fill a large volume. We must resign that task to other hands.

It may be enough to state here that the extreme tension of the relations between the United States and England in consequence of the depredations of the Alabama and other Confederate cruisers, fitted out in English ports, or supplied by English subjects, during the great rebellion, hastened, if it did not set on foot, the movement in the Mother Country, as well as in the Colonies, towards union and consolidation. British North America, in case of war between England and the American

* Alison, in the preface to his History of Europe, while regretting the dearth of native genius applied to the subject, says: It is fortunate that a connected narrative of events of continued interest and extensive information is to be found in the Annual Register.”

Republic, was unprepared for defence. The separate Provinces could each furnish its quota of men and horses and commissariat supplies; but unity of action and vigour of administration were impossible. The disputes, delays, and mistakes of a voluntary association of independent states, or even of co-ordinate provinces under the direction of a distant imperial authority, would offer such advantages to an enterprising enemy who could attack at many points simultaneously, that even against equal forces, he would probably secure an easy victory. The divergent opinions and tardy movements of the Aulic Council saved Napoleon from defeat and capture in Italy, made him master of France, and ultimately, of the greater part of Europe.

The Confederation of the thirteen colonies under the Continental Congress—slow in action, divided in opinion, jealous of one another, refusing needful contributions to the army, &c.,-would have been crushed long before the arrival of Lafayette, if a skillful and enterprising commander had directed the British forces, and if a less able, a less respected, or a less patriotic general than Washington had been selected to organize, equip, and lead the raw levies of the not yet United States. English statesmen feared that in case of war, history might repeat itself in respect of divided councils, and they could not be sure that a Washington, a Montcalm, or even a Brock, would be found in Canada when he was wanted. Hence the desire for a union of all the colonies in British America under one central authority, with effective legislative and executive power in all matters of defensive military organization and supply.

The same prudential considerations influenced, though probably to a less extent, the minds of Colonial statesmen. But there were local and political causes which combined to render the

project of union acceptable to the loyal subjects of Her Majesty in all the Provinces. In Canada, it was regarded as a means of redressing grievances, and promoting administrative reforms, which could not be effected under the existing system of government. Dissatisfaction with the constitutional relations of Upper Canada and Lower Canada, under the Act of 1840, prevailed to a much greater extent in the former than in the latter Province. That Act provided that the united Provinces should be equally represented in the common Legislature. On the theory that among the citizens of a free country, equality of political and civil rights should be secured by the fundamental law, the Union Act of 1840 was defective, for it established inequality. The

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

population of Lower Canada at the union was about 650,000,* while that of Upper Canada was only 432,000. By giving to the smaller population an equal voice with the larger in the making of laws, and equal power in levying and appropriating taxes, 218,000 inhabitants of Lower Canada were practically disfranchised. The injustice of this provision was pointed out in the Imperial Parliament, and its inevitable result-dissatisfaction in Canada—predicted by statesmen on both sides of the Atlantic. But the feeling of irritation in England against the “rebels" of 1837, and the desire to place the powers of government in the hands of the loyal minority, overcame all scruples, and the unjust rule of equal representation, without regard to numbers, was embodied in the new constitution. A justification was found in the fact that Upper Canada was growing rapidly in population, and would soon overtake its co-partner. It will be seen that this expectation was realized in 1848; but as no provision had been made for such a contingency, the injustice of disfranchisement continued, but its victims were no longer found in Lower Canada. Time in her case soon redressed the evil. When it crossed the boundary and fell exclusively upon Upper Canada, every year increased the number of the sufferers, and every vote in Parliament on questions of a sectional character embittered the controversy and intensified the demand for some adequate remedy. A political dead-lock in 1864 compelled the leaders of parties to give up for a season the game of faction, and to go in quest of a sovereign cure for the disorders of the body politic, which were becoming so serious that they threatened the very existence of the constitution. The cure was found in the scheme of confederation. By concentrating in one parliament the power to regulate the federal or national affairs of all the Provinces, English opinion was conciliated; by adjusting the representation

* Prior to 1848 no census of the population of Upper and Lower Canada had been taken simultaneously, but the following figures are approximately accurate. (See census for 1870, vol. 4.) Lower Canada.

Upper Canada. 1759 (the Conquest).

70,000 1759, no white men, only a few traders. 1784 113,000 1784,

about 10,000 1825 423,650 1825

157,923 1844 697,084 1842

487,053 1848 768,334 1848

765,797 1851 890,261 1851

952,004 1861 1,111,566 1861

1,396,091 1871 1,191,516 | 1871

1,620,851

a

in the House of Commons, as between the Provinces, on the basis of population, a great and growing evil was extinguished in Ontario, the largest province of the Dominion; and by assigning the management of local and provincial matters to Local Assemblies, the old autonomy was sufficiently preserved to gratify the sentiment of provincialism, which cannot be eradicated in one generation, and to secure to the people of all the Provinces the benefits of self-government in their domestic affairs.

A war cloud of portentous aspect appeared during the excitement which followed the capture of Mason and Slidell from a British vessel. It disappeared soon after their surrender by the American government. It darkened the political horizon again for a short time when the FENIANS endeavored to create casus belli by invading Canada in military array and with hostile intent from the territory of the United States. But as they were promptly met, and, with the loss of only a few lives, defeated and driven back by the loyal militia of the country, and were arrested and disarmed by the American troops on the frontier, that cloud disappeared also. These events, however, confirmed the belief in most minds that war between England and the United States was a calamity that might happen at any time, and that the best means to avert it would be found in a political union and military organization on this side of the Atlantic, and a better understanding and more intimate, but at the same time more independent, relations with imperial authorities on the other. Results have thus far more than justified the policy while they approve the statesmanship of the authors of Confederation.

[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]
« AnteriorContinuar »