Joseph Howe.

The speeches and public letters of Joseph Howe. (Based upon Mr. Annand's edition of 1858) (Volume 1) online

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tomb? The minorities in all the Provinces were in active and
indefatigable hostility. Lord Durham had been fiercely attacked
by clever colonial writers as he had been by powerful speakers in

% Mr. Howe's opinion of Lord Durham's report was given in a few
sentences, which we extract from The Nova Scotian of April llth,

We have risen from the perusal of this admirable exposition of the state of
the British colonies in North America with a higher estimate of the powers of
the noble Lord and a more sanguine anticipation of the ultimate termination
of colonial misrule than we have ever ventured to form. We did not believe


that there was a nobleman in Britain, who had the ability and the firmness to CHAP, vi
grapple with the great questions committed to Lord Durham's care, in a spirit
so searching and yet so frank ; nor a man who in one short summer could
collect and digest so much information and draw from it such a volume of
instruction to the Government and people of England. It is impossible for a
colonist to read this report dispassionately through and not recognize on every
page the features of that system which has now become contemptible in the
eyes of every man of common understanding, who has no interest in keeping it
up. We wish a copy of this report was in the hands of every head of a family
in Nova Scotia ; for, although we shall take some pains, by extracts and
abstracts, to give our readers some knowledge of its contents, it is a volume
that every colonist should have upon his shelf. The people of Nova Scotia
should study it as the best exposition that has yet been given of the causes of
the dissensions in the Canadas, and containing the best suggestion for the
avoidance of kindred troubles in all the Provinces, that has yet appeared. The
remedy for the state of conflict between the people and the local executives,
which prevails or has prevailed in all the colonies, has two prime recommenda-
tions, being perfectly simple'&r\d eminently British. It is to let the majority and
not the minority govern, and compel every Governor to select his advisers from
those who enjoy the confidence of the people and can command a majority in the
popular branch.

No sooner was the report published here than a series of resolu-
tions condemnatory of it were passed by the Legislative Council.
The journals were searched, and another set, of a different com-
plexion, moved by Mr. Howe, and seconded by Mr. Young, were
adopted in the popular branch. So far did the Council carry its
dislike of Lord Durham's policy at this period that a resolution was
passed in the following terms, disapproving even of a federal union
of the colonies :

Resolved, That a federal union of the British North American colonies
would, in the opinion of this House, prove an extremely difficult, if not an
impracticable measure ; that the experiment, if practicable, would be emi-
nently dangerous to the interests of the mother country as well as those of
the colonies ; that its tendency would be to separate the colonies from the
parent state by imbuing the rising generation with a fondness for elective
institutions to an extent inconsistent with the British Constitution ; that it
would involve the lower colonies, which are now contented and peaceable, with
the political discussions of Lower Canada, and add greatly to their local and
general expenditures, without producing any adequate benefit to them, to the
Canadas, or to the empire at large.

It would now be very difficult to induce anybody in Nova Scotia
to vote for this resolution.


CHAI. n In June, Lord John Russell brought forward the measure promised
before Easter, for the settlement of Canadian affairs. It disappointed
the just expectations of colonial reformers, and was received more
in sorrow than in anger in all the Provinces of British North
America. Lord John Russell stood deservedly high in public esti-
mation. Much was hoped from his moral courage and broad and
statesmanlike views. When, in recommending a union of the
Canadas, he adhered to the opinions of the preceding year and
negatived Lord Durham's recommendation to concede responsible
government, we were all disappointed. A good many really ener-
getic men were completely discouraged. Mr. Howe viewed the
matter differently. He insisted upon it that Lord John Russell did
not understand the question. That, having only studied it from the
imperial and not the colonial points of observation, it was not sur-
prising that he should come to a hasty and erroneous conclusion.
He was confident that if it were understood by the leading minds
in the mother country, they could have no desire, as they assuredly
had no interest, in maintaining, in five noble Provinces, modes of
administration which generated, as a matter of course, oppression
and discontent. With his characteristic cheerfulness and energy,
he set himself to work to enlighten them.

He addressed four letters to Lord John Russell, which were
immediately republished in nearly all the colonial newspapers. He
printed them in pamphlet form, and sent them to every member of
both Houses of Parliament, to the clubs, the reading-rooms, and to
the newspapers in the three kingdoms. That our readers may exactly
understand the position of this great question when this brochure
was published, we give Lord John Russell's speech and resolutions :

There is another question upon which I am now going to state an opinion,
which question, I think, is of the very greatest importance and upon which
Lord Durham has expressed an opinion contrary to that entertained by this
House I mean the question with respect to the responsibility of the indi-
vidual holding the office of Governor in the Province. Lord Durham has
stated that an analogy existed between the representative of the Crown in the
colony and the constitutional responsibility of the ministers in this country.
He states that as soon as the ministers of the Crown have lost the confidence
of the House of Commons in this country they cease to be ministers, and that
they could not go on with the government with a constant minority. He adds
that it is certainly a most unusual case for a ministry to go on for several
months in a minority, and he then attempts to apply that principle to the local
government of Canada. Now, the resolution of this House on this subject was


in these terms : " Resolved, That while it is expedient to improve the composi- CHAP, vi
tion of the Executive Council of Lower Canada, it is unadvisable to subject it


to that responsibility demanded by the House of Assembly of that Province."
This House upon my motion came to that resolution, and I must own that
there is nothing in this report which has at all, in my mind, shaken the argu-
ment by which at the time I supported that resolution. It does not appear
to me that you can subject the Executive Council of Canada to the responsi-
bility which is fairly demanded of the ministers of the executive power in this
country. In the first place, there is an obvious difference in matter of form
with regard to the instructions under which the Governor of a colony acts.
The Sovereign in this country receives the advice of the ministers and acts by
the advice of those ministers, and indeed there is no important act of the
Crown for which there is not some individual minister responsible. There
responsibility begins and there it ends. But the Governor of Canada is act-
ing, not in that high and unassailable position in which the Sovereign of this
country is placed. He is a Governor receiving instructions from the Crown
on the responsibility of a Secretary of State. Here, then, at once, is an obvious
and complete difference between the Executive of this country and the Execu-
tive of a colony. The Governor might ask the Executive Council to propose
a certain measure. They might say they could not propose it unless the
members of the House of Assembly would adopt it, but the Governor might
reply that he had received instructions from home commanding him to pro-
pose that measure. How, in that case, is he to proceed ? Either one power
or the other must be set aside, either the Governor or the House of Assembly ;
or else the Governor must become a mere cipher in the hands of the Assembly
and not attempt to carry into effect the measures which he is commanded by
the home Government to do. But if we endeavour to carry out this analogy,
there is one case that all the world allows is a case in which it could be applied
I mean the case of foreign affairs. If the Assembly of New Brunswick in
the late collision carried on a dispute with the North American States [Here
some interruption occurred which gave rise to cries of " Order, order."] The
subject [continued the noble Lord] is certainly a very important one, and
although I may express myself in very inadequate terms, yet I do conceive
that as it is in my opinion one of the most important points contained in Lord
Durham's report and one on which I differ with him, I ought to state the
grounds of that difference. I say if the Assembly of New Brunswick had been
disposed to carry the point in dispute with the North American States hostilely
and the Executive Council had been disposed to aid them, in my opinion the
Governor must have said that his duty to the Crown of this country and the
general instructions which he had received from the minister of the Crown, did
not permit him to take that course, and, therefore, he could not agree with
the Executive Council to carry into effect the wish of the majority of the
Assembly. That is allowed. Does not then this very exception destroy the
analogy you wish to draw, when upon so important a point as that of foreign


CHAP, n affiun, it cannot be sustained t Again, neither could this analogy be main-
- Uioed with regard to trade between Canada and the mother country or Canada
and any foreign country; how then can you adopt a principle from which
uch large exceptions are to be made ? If you were to do so you would be
continually on the borders of dispute and conflict; the Assembly and the
Executive on the one hand requiring a certain course to be pursued, while
the Governor on the other hand would be as constantly declaring that it
was a course he could not adopt; so that instead of furnishing matter of
content and harmony in these Provinces, you would be affording new matter
for dispute and discontent, if you were to act upon this supposed analogy. But
supposing yon could lay down this broad principle and say that all external
matters should be subject to the home Government and all internal affairs
should be governed according to the majority of the Assembly, could you
carry that principle into effect ? I say we cannot abandon the responsibility
which is cast upon us as ministers of this great empire. I will put a case,
one merely of internal concern, that occurred only the other day. Let us
suppose that an officer of militia in Upper Canada after an action, was to
order that the persons taken in that action should be put to death on the
field. I can conceive it possible, in a state of exasperation and conflict with
the people of the neighbouring state, that the Assembly might applaud that
conduct and might require that it should be the rule, and not the exception,
that all invaders of their territory should be treated in that manner and
that the parties should be put to death without trial. Supposing that to be
the case, could the Government of this country adopt such a rule ? Could the
Secretary of State for the Colonies sanction such a rule, and not decide, as
his honourable friend the Under Secretary had done, that such a practice
would meet with his decided reprehension ? It is quite impossible to allow it
to be laid down as a general principle that any part of the government of this
country, conducted by ministers having the sanction of this House, shall be
overruled by a colony, and that such colony shall not be subject to the general
superintending authority of the Crown of these realms. I can conceive, sir, and
I think that it would be the part of wisdom and of justice to say, that there are
matters affecting the internal affairs of these Provinces, that there are matters
in which neither the Imperial Parliament nor the general Government need
interfere and on which they should be anxious to consult the feelings of the
people of the colonies. It seems to me, sir, as much a rule of sense as of
generosity, that there are some questions on which it would not be desirable
that, on the opinion of the Secretary of State for the Colonies, the opinion of
the House of Assembly should be put on one side. I know no reason why
the Legislative Assembly, whether of each separately, or of both Provinces
united, should not be listened to with deference ; but I am not prepared to
lay down as a principle a new principle for the future government of the
colonies, that we ought to subject the Executive there to the same restrictions
as prevail in this country.


Resolved, That it is the opinion of this House that it is expedient to form CHAP, vi
a legislative union of the Provinces of Upper and Lower Canada, on the prin-
ciples of a free and representative government, in such manner as may most
conduce to the prosperity and contentment of the people of the United

Resolved, That it is expedient to continue till 1842 the powers vested in the
Governor and special Council of Lower Canada by an Act of last session, with
such alterations of those powers as may be deemed advisable.

These resolutions, ably combated by the late lamented Charles
Buller, than whom North America never had a more valuable friend
or a more enlightened advocate, received of course the sanction of
the House of Commons, who confirmed by their votes the doctrines
which Lord John had laid down. Mr. Howe's protest against this
decision, carried with it at the time the sympathies and suffrages
of all North America. These letters, which are here reproduced,
will bear perusal even now, and ought to be read by all who take
an interest in the progress of a great controversy, out of which were
slowly evolved principles of universal application to British planta-
tions and communities in every quarter of the globe.

On the 26th of July, Lord Durham defended his report and
policy in the House of Lords. In the autumn, Lord John Russell
accepted the seals of the Colonial Office, and Mr. Charles Poulett
Thompson was sent out as Governor-General of British America.

The delegates returned in October. They had succeeded in
arranging satisfactorily a good many vexed questions. Five outports
were opened to the advantages of foreign trade. 1 Her Majesty's
Government had conceded the importance of uniting the Customs
and Excise. Measures touching the Post Office and Crown Land
departments were also matured and principles defined, by which
controversy about local acts would be thereafter avoided. No
change was to be made in the Councils, however, and the prin-
ciple of executive responsibility was, as we have seen by the
proceedings in Parliament, peremptorily negatived.

Mr. Howe's letters to Lord John Russell are as follows :

HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA, Sept. 18, 1839.

MY LORD, I beg your Lordship to believe that no desire to seek for
notoriety beyond the limited sphere in which Providence has placed me, tempts
me to address these letters to you. Born in a small and distant Province of

1 Cumberland, Parrsboro, Windsor, Shelburne, and Lunenburg.


BAF. n the empire, and contented with the range of occupation that it affords, and
with the moderate degree of influence which the confidence of some portion

1839 O f jta population confers, I should never have thought of intruding upon your
Lordship, had not the occupations of my past life, and the devotion to them
of many days of toil and nights of anxious inquiry, led me to entertain strong
opinions upon a subject which your Lordship has undertaken recently to dis-
CUM ; and which, while it deeply concerns the honour and the interests of the
empire, appears to be, by Her Majesty's present ministers, but little under-
stood. Whether or not the Anglo-American population, upholding the British
flag on this side of the Atlantic, shall possess the right to influence, through
their representatives, the Governments under which they live, in all matters
touching their internal affairs (of which their fellow-subjects living elsewhere
know nothing and with which they have no right to interfere) is a question,
my Lord, that involves their happiness and freedom. To every Nova Scotian
it is no light matter that the country of his birth, in whose bosom the bones
of a hardy and loyal ancestry repose, and whose surface is possessed by a popu-
lation inferior in none of the physical, moral, or mental attributes which dis-
tinguish his race, to any branch of the great British family, should be free and
happy. I share with my countrymen their solicitude on this subject ; I and
my children will share their deep disgrace, if the doctrines recently attributed
to your Lordship are to prevail ; to the utter exclusion of us all from the bless-
ings and advantages of responsible government, based upon the principles of
that Constitution which your Lordship's forefathers laboured to establish and
ours have taught us to revere. To the consciousness of social and political
degradation which must be my portion, if the future government of North
America is arranged upon the principles recently avowed by the ministry, I
am reluctant that the reflection should be added that the colonists were them-
selves to blame in permitting a great question, without ample discussion and
remonstrance, to be decided upon grounds which they knew to be untenable
and untrue. In addressing your Lordship on such a topic, it is gratifying
to reflect that your i>a8t life is a guarantee that the moment you are
satisfied that a greater amount of freedom and happiness can be conferred
on any portion of your fellow-subjects than they now enjoy, without endanger-
ing the welfare of the whole when once convinced that the great principles
of the British Constitution can be more widely extended, without peril to
the integrity of the empire you will not hesitate to lend the influence of
your great name and distinguished talents to the good old cause " for which
Hampden died in the field and Sidney on the scaffold."

Lord Durham's Report upon the affairs of British North America appears
to have produced much excitement in England. The position which his Lord-
ship occupies as a politician at home naturally draws attention to whatever he
says and does ; and the disclosures made in the Report must appear so strange
to many and the remedies suggested so bold and original to many more, that
I am not surprised at the notice bestowed by friends and foes on this very


important document. From what I have seen, however, it is evident that CHAP, vi
his Lordship is paying the penalty of party connection ; and that his opinions ~
on Canadian affairs, instead of being tried upon their merits, are in many cases
applauded or opposed, as his views of British and Irish politics happen to be
relished or condemned. It is almost too much to expect that my feeble voice
will be heard amidst the storm of praise and censure that this Report has
raised ; and yet there may be some, who, disliking this mode of estimating
a state paper, or distrusting the means of judging possessed by many who
express opinions, but whose practical experience of the working of colonial
constitutions has been but slight if indeed they have had any may feel
disposed to ask, What is thought of the Report in the colonies'? Are its
leading features recognized as true to nature and experience there? Are the
remedies suggested approved by the people whose future destinies they are to
influence and control?

The Report has circulated for some months in the colonies, and I feel it
a duty to state the grounds of my belief that hia Lordship in attributing
many if not all of our colonial evils and disputes to the absence of respon-
sibility in our rulers to those whom they are called to govern, is entirely
warranted by the knowledge of every intelligent colonist ; that the remedy
pointed out, while it possesses the merits of being extremely simple and
eminently British, making them so responsible, is the only cure for those
evils short of arrant quackery ; the only secure foundation upon which the
power of the Crown can be established on this continent, so as to defy internal
machination and foreign assault.

It appears to me that a very absurd opinion has long prevailed among
many worthy people, on both sides of the Atlantic; that the selection of
an Executive Council, who, upon most points of domestic policy, will differ
from the great body of the inhabitants and the majority of their represen-
tatives, is indispensable to the very existence of colonial institutions ; and
that if it were otherwise, the colony would fly off, by the operation of some
latent principle of mischief, which I have never seen very clearly defined.
By those who entertain this view, it is assumed, that Great Britain is indebted
for the preservation of her colonies, not to the natural affection of their in-
habitants to their pride in her history, to their participation in the benefit
of her warlike, scientific or literary achievements, but to the disinterested
patriotism of a dozen or two of persons, whose names are scarcely known in
England, except by the clerks in Downing Street; who are remarkable for
nothing above their neighbours in the colony, except perhaps the enjoyment of
offices too richly endowed ; or their zealous efforts to annoy, by the distri-
bution of patronage and the management of public affairs, the great body
of the inhabitants, whose sentiments they cannot change.

I have ever held, my Lord, and still hold to the belief, that the population
of British North America are sincerely attached to the parent State ; that they
are proud of their origin, deeply interested in the integrity of the empire and


CHAP. Ti not anxious for the establishment of any other form of government here than
that which you enjoy at home ; which, while it has stood the test of ages and
purified iteelf by successive peaceful revolutions, has so developed the intellec-
tual, moral and natural resources of two small Islands, as to enable a people,
once comparatively far behind their neighbours in influence and improvement,
to combine and wield the energies of a dominion more vast in extent and com-
plicated in all ita relations than any other in ancient or modern times. Why
should we desire a severance of old ties that are more honourable than any
new ones we can form ? Why should we covet institutions more perfect than
those which have worked so well and produced such admirable results ? Until
it can be shown that there are forms of government, combining stronger execu-
tive power with more of individual liberty; offering nobler incitements to
honourable ambition, and more security to unaspiring ease and humble in-
dustry ; why should it be taken for granted, either by our friends in England
or our enemies elsewhere, that we are panting for new experiments ; or are
disposed to repudiate and cast aside the principles of that excellent Consti-
tution, cemented by the blood and the long experience of our fathers and
upon which the vigorous energies of our brethren, driven to apply new prin-
ciples to a field of boundless resources, have failed to improve? This suspicion
is a libel upon the colonist and upon the Constitution he claims as his inherit-
ance ; and the principles of which he believes to be as applicable to all the
exigencies of the country where he resides, as they have proved to be to those
of the fortunate Islands in which they were first developed.

If the conviction of this fact were once acknowledged by the intelligent and
influential men of all parties in Britain, colonial misrule would speedily end
and the reign of order indeed commence. This is not a party question. I can
readily understand how the Duke of Wellington and Sir Robert Peel may differ
from your Lordship or the Earl of Durham as to whether measures should be
carried, which they believe will impair and you feel will renovate the Constitu-
tion ; but surely none of these distinguished men would wish to deny the

Online LibraryJoseph HoweThe speeches and public letters of Joseph Howe. (Based upon Mr. Annand's edition of 1858) (Volume 1) → online text (page 29 of 85)