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THE Debates in the House of Commons, in the year 1774, on the Bill for making more effectual provision for the Government of the province of Quebec, are not reported in any of the publications of that time. So strictly was the standing order enforced for the exclusion of strangers, and so rigidly were those persons punished who ventured to make public the speeches of the members, that none but the merest outlines of the proceedings on this most important bill have been given to the world.
There was, however, at that time, in the House of Commons, a gentleman of rank and talent, who took copious notes, in short-hand, of the whole of these very interesting Debates; and from his manuscripts, the speeches contained in the following pages have been drawn up.
The bill was brought into the House of Lords by the Earl of Dartmouth, on the 2nd of May.
th, on the 2nd of May. It passed without opposition, and without any witnesses having been called to support the allegations upon which it was founded, on the 17th of the same month. On the 18th of June, it was returned to the House of Lords, with the amendments introduced by the House of Commons; and then the Earl of Chatham, though extremely ill at the time, came down to oppose it, stating, in a short speech, his conviction, that "it would involve this country in a thousand difficulties ; that it was a most cruel, oppressive, and odious measure, tearing up justice and every good principle by the roots; that the whole of it appeared to him to be destructive of that liberty, which ought to be the ground-work of every constitution; and that it would shake the affections and confidence of his Majesty's subjects in England and Ireland, and finally lose him the hearts of all the Americans.” The bill was passed by a majority of nineteen ; the contents being twenty-six, the not-contents seven. The minority consisted of the Duke of Gloucester, the Earls of Chatham, Coventry, Effingham and Spencer, and the Lords Sandys and King.
On the 22nd of June, the Lord Mayor, attended by several aldermen, the recorder, and upwards of one hundred and fifty of the common council, went up with an address and petition to the King, supplicating his Majesty not to give his assent to the bill. On their arrival at St. James's, the Lord Chamberlain acquainted them, by order of the King, that “ as the petition related to a bill agreed on by the two Houses of Parliament, of which his Majesty conld not take notice until it was presented for his royal assent, they were not to expect an answer.” The King, who was then on the point of going down to Westminster to prorogue Parliament, immediately proceeded to the House of Lords, and gave his assent to the Bill; observing, that “it was founded on the clearest principles of justice and humanity, and would, he doubted not, have the best effect, in quieting the minds and promoting the happiness of his Canadian subjects."
As soon as the act reached Quebec, the English settlers met in the greatest alarm, and sent over a petition to the King, for its repeal or amendment. They complained, that it “ deprived them of the franchises which they inherited from their forefathers;—that they had lost the protection of the English laws, so universally admired for their wisdom and lenity, and in their stead the laws of Canada were to be introduced, to which they were utter strangers ;—that this was disgraceful to them as Britons,
and ruinous to their properties, as they thereby lost the invaluable privilege of trial by jury ;-—and that, in matters of a criminal nature, the habeas corpus act was destroyed, and they were subjected to arbitrary fines and imprisonment, at the will of the governor and council.” Similar petitions were addressed to both Houses of Parliament. They are signed by nearly all “his Majesty's ancient subjects, settled in the province of Quebec," and the first name subscribed is that of Zachary Macaulay.
On the 17th of May, 1775, Lord Camden presented the petition to the House of Lords, and offered, at the same time, a bill to repeal the said act; which bill, on the motion of the Earl of Dartmouth, was rejected. A similar motion, made in the House of Commons on the following day, by Sir George Savile, met with a similar fate.
The American Congress, in the same year, enumerated the passing of this act in their list of parliamentary grievances; declaring it to be “ unjust, unconstitutional, and most dangerous and destructive of American rights :" and, in 1779, Mr. Maseres, the recent attorney-general of Quebec, and then cursitor baron of the exchequer, gave it as his opinion, that " it had not only offended the inhabitants of the province itself, in a degree that could hardly be conceived, but had alarmed all the English provinces in America, and contributed more, perhaps, than any other measure whatsoever, to drive them into rebellion against their Sovereign."
The act continued in force till the year 179] ; when, in consequence of a message from the Crown, a new government was given to the province, and Canada was divided into the two provinces of Upper and Lower Canada.
After a lapse of forty-eight years, it is now proposed to re-unite them; and, in May last, a message was brought down to parliament, recommending a measure to that effect. At this critical period, the Debates of that House of Commons which passed the original bill for giving a consti
tution to Canada, possess a peculiar interest. They come before us, recommended by the magnitude of the subject, the great talents and high character of the several speakers who took part in these debates, and the importance of those views which are opened out by them. Two generations have passed away, and yet the debates might be conceived to be those of yesterday; so completely are the circumstances of the country brought round by time to the point from which they first started.
July 22, 1839.
N.B. The large map which accompanies this volume is copied from the second edition of Dr. John Mitchell's eight-sheet map of the North American provinces, which was originally constructed at the desire of the Board of Trade and Plantations, and the first edition of which appeared early in 1755. Shortly afterwards, this first edition was withdrawn, and a second, containing numerous important corrections, was published ; but the date was not altered. Mr. Pownall, the secretary of the Board, certifies, upon both editions, that the map was “undertaken with the approbation, and at the request, of the Lords Commissioners, and was composed from draughts, charts, and actual surveys, recently taken by their Lordships' orders.” Dr. Mitchell died in 1768.
To show the difference between the two maps, the editor of the present volume has had that portion of the first edition copied and inserted, which contains the part most involved in the actual dispute between England and America. A copy of this first edition was, with all its inaccuracies, published at Paris, by Le Rouge, in 1756.