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legislative freedom. Considering the legislative council as the origin of all their grievances, they demanded the alteration of the constitutional act of 1791, so far as that the legislative council should be, like the lower house, elected by the people, and formally voted to allow no more supplies, till this demand should be granted.
These facts came before the British ministry in the shape of a memorial addressed to all the branches of the imperial legislature, by the provincial house of assembly. The ministry, instead of immediate action on the petition, determined to send commissioners to the province, for the purpose of making investigations on the spot, as to the reality and extent of the alledged grievances, and of grounding upon their report some propositions to the imperial parliament.
These commissioners, with Lord Gosford at their head, arrived in Canada in the autumn of 1835. Lord Gosford, who also came out as governor, to supersede Lord Aylmer, met the provincial parliament with a very conciliatory speech,-stated his readiness to concur with them in every measure for the good of the country, and his instructions to remove every grievance. The lower house denied the right and constitutionality of sending out commissioners, --maintained, that they, as the representatives of the people, had solemnly presented to the supreme government at home, an account of their grievances, and that the government were bound to act on these statements,—that men coming to the country as commissioners, to reside but a few months, could not be as well acquainted with the wants of the country, and the political grievances under which they labored, as the representatives of the people.
The commissioners, however, proceeded with their inquiries, remained in the country about one year, when two of them returned, and laid their voluminous and somewhat contradictory reports before the imperial parliament. They allowed, that grievances did exist, and recommended their instant removal, but strongly maintained the inexpediency of granting the principal demand of the house of assembly, an elective legislative council.
When this report reached Canada, the house of assembly maintained, that the denial of an elective legislative council, was, in effect, a denial of all redress; for all minor grievances originated in the vicious and selfish exercise of power by that irresponsible body. They subsequently voted, not only that they would grant no supplies, until their demands were conceded, but declared, that they would transact no legislative busi
ness with the upper house. Of course the public officers were un paid ; laws necessary to the administration of justice and the vital interests of the country expired by their own limitation; and incipient anarchy disturbed and threatened the province.
After some efforts to induce the house of assembly to revoke their determination, the imperial parliament again took the affairs of the province into consideration. Lord John Russell introduced into the house of commons, a series of resolutions, the purport of which was, " that an elective council should not be granted to Lower Canada; and that the governor should be au- . thorized to take from the public treasury sufficient to pay the public officers, if the lower house should any longer refuse to vote the necessary supplies.” Upon these resolutions reaching the country, the popular indignation was highly excited. When the governor assembled the legislature, in the summer of 1836, and laid these resolutions of the home government before them, and again asked for the necessary supplies, they only replied with indignation, staid together but a few days, and returned to their constituents, without transacting any public business. The governor prepared to issue his warrants, and take the money from the treasury, and pay the arrears of salary to the public officers.
The whole country was in a ferment. Public meetings were called in each county; resolutions were passed in nearly all of them, denouncing the act of the governor and of the ministry at home, as unconstitutional and tyrannical in the highest degree; urging the people to study the history of the American revolution, to desist from the use of all English goods, to consider themselves held to the mother country no longer by any tie but that of force, and to keep muskets and powder in readiness. These agitations were continued during the fall and winter of 1836–7, with the hope of inducing the imperial government to modify their measures. The desired effect was not produced. In process of time, the governor took the money from the treasury, and paid the public officers, without a vote, and contrary to the express vote of the house of assembly.
The more daring and impetuous of the popular party began to call on the people to prepare arms and ammunition, and keep themselves in readiness. Secret military organization was commenced in various parts of the country. This was done in such a manner, that the law officers were unable to find sufficient grounds for arrest and trial. But as the ultimate revolutionary intentions of the popular party became developed, there took place a serious and extensive division in that party. A very
considerable proportion of the leading French gentlemen, who had bitherto gone heart and soul with their political friends, now saw the probability of an appeal to arms. But knowing well the madness of the project,--the utter impossibility of resisting the power of England, they now seceded, and became the firm adherents of government,--the advocates of peaceful and constitutional measures exclusively.
The more headstrong of the party, however, persisted. An association was formed in the city of Montreal, styled “The Sons of Liberty.” They published an address, which, after a detail of grievances, held out the most serious threats of an apreal to arms. Affiliated associations were formed in various parts of the country. The members of the associations began to form themselves into military companies and drill. With a profaneness sufficiently indicative of the infidel character of their leaders, and of the nature of Catholic superstition, they selected the Sabbath for their military parade. The congregations of Montreal, in their egress from church, were met and crowded from the walk, by these embryo warriors,-already, by anticipation, in possession of the city.
In September, 1837, there took place, at St. Charles, on the river Richelieu, a meeting, which may be considered as the last preparatory act of the impending tragedy. An assembly of “ Five Counties” was called to deliberate on the state of the province. At this meeting, attended by several thousands, many of whom were armed, resolutions were passed, and an address prepared, both in form, style, and sentiments, slavishly copied from the famous declaration of July 4, 1776. It was unquestionably intended, by the more daring leaders of the party, to be the passage of the Rubicon,—the irretrievable pledge, for themselves and their followers, of deadly opposition to the British government. When this assembly dispersed, there commenced immediately acts of the most treasonable nature, and utterly subversive of all government. In various parts of the country, the magistrates and militia officers were compelled, by threats of violence and murder, to throw up their commissions; the laws could not be executed; the legislature refused to act; the people would not allow executive and judicial officers to act; and the country was rapidly sinking into utter anarchy.
Every intelligent man perceived, that the country had arrived at a crisis ; that the present government or these revolutionary movements must soon terminate. All eyes were turned with intense interest towards the measures pursued by Lord Gosford, the governor in chief. By a large party he was furiously assailed for his imbecility, and even treacherous inaction. Military bodies were organized and drilled with the avowed intention of future resistance to the government; declarations of independence were published ; arms were collected; magistrates were compelled to throw up their commissions; in short, government was prostrated, among large portions of the French population ; yet not an arrest was made, not a prosecution was commenced. It was maintained, that the governor had connived at these measures, and was at heart a traitor to his king.
But during the whole of this time, the governor had played his part with consummate tact and forecast. By means which a rich governor always can command, he had made himself acquainted with all the schemes in progress, with their leaders, their instruments, and intended accomplishment. Not a public meeting, not a measure of the party, not a step in revolutionary movements, escaped his notice. He design
He designedly allowed them to proceed to a certain point, without any molestation. Had the law officers of the crown commenced legal proceedings against the leaders of the revolutionary party at an earlier stage, the offenses would have been bailable; of course, increased desperation and caution would have marked all their future measures. It was his policy, by apparent inactivity, to embolden them to the full and thorough development of their plans; to employ the law officers of the crown in silently collecting evidence; and, when their political leaders had gone so far, that ample legal proof could be obtained of their treason, to arrest, try, and punish.
It appears, from various sources of evidence, which we have not room here to recapitulate, that the following plan of action had been arranged by the Canadian leaders.—Military and political organizations were to proceed during the autumnal months; arms and ammunition were to be silently collected, and the excitement of the Canadians maintained and increased, by public meetings, until the winter. When the winter snows and frosts had rendered the roads impracticable for artillery, and frozen the largest rivers, there was to be a simultaneous rising ; Montreal was to be attacked, and the military stores there concentrated, to be seized.
By the month of November, 1837, the train on both sides was laid ; nothing was needed but a spark, to produce the longanticipated explosion. The spark followed on the 6th of November. On that day, public notice was given of a meeting of the “Sons of Liberty.” It was intimated, that, at the meeting, a cap of liberty and the tri-colored flag were to be hoisted. The city police called on the troops; the whole military force in garrison were stationed on one of the public squares, prepared to act against any hostile demonstrations. The “Sons of Liberty," however, did not venture on their design, and after passing a few resolutions, dispersed. A mob of constitutionalists met them; a battle of stones and clubs ensued, in which several individuals were wounded. The office of the Vindicator, the leading paper and organ of the revolutionary party, was plundered; the press, paper, and type, were thrown into the street.
Then commenced arrests. Warrants were issued against all the leading individuals in these hostile movements. Some were taken, and others fled. Within a few days, a police officer, with a few armed horsemen, was dispatched to St. Johns, about twenty miles from Montreal, for the purpose of arresting two individuals, who had been prominent in previous measures of the revolutionary party. On their return, they were met by about one hundred and fifty armed men, who fired, dispersed and wounded the cavalry, and rescued the prisoners. Blood was now drawn, and the war commenced. Those who had fled from arrest in Montreal, assembled at St. Charles, the scene of their late proud declaration; called on the people of the
Five Counties” to assemble around them with arms and ammunition; began to throw up breastworks, and to plunder from the neighboring country, provisions and military stores. They threatened to march on Montreal, and offered to their followers the plunder of the city.
The citizens of Montreal took prompt and vigorous measures of precaution. Within a few days, four thousand able-bodied volunteers were formed into military corps, supplied with arms, and placed under drill. The same measures were pursued in the country. In the district of Montreal alone, more than ten thousand volunteers were organized and armed for the defense of government.
After a brief space of time occupied in enrolling and organizing volunteer corps, it was the object of the commander in chief to put down the force collected at St. Charles. For this purpose, two bodies of troops were ordered to proceed to that point. One, under Col. Gore, of about four hundred men, was to advance from Sorel, and march up the river Richelieu, while another from Chambly, under Col. Wetherall, of about the same number, was to proceed down the river. They were to meet and surround the insurgents.