Sunday, 13 February 2011

The Ninety-Two Resolutions

Since the tentative attempt in 1822 to impose a union between Upper and Lower Canada, there had been conflict between the Assembly, dominated by deputies elected by the French Canadian population and the Executive Council dominated by members of the ‘British party’. In 1828, the British Parliament appointed a ‘committee on Canada’ that made recommendations for concessions to the Canadians on a number of points especially on the colonial administration, the administration of land and the use of colonial patronage in public appointments. But on the fundamental question of parliamentary control of finance, the committee recommended ‘la recette et la dépense de tout le revenu public sous la surveillance et le contrôle de la Chambre d’assemblée’ with the exception of the civil list covering the expenses of the governor, the Executive Council and the judiciary. The removal of Governor Dalhousie, the introduction of a new electoral structures and the reduction of the civil list reduced tensions. However, this only created an uneasy equilibrium especially as effective reform was slow to materialise.

In 1832, the army intervened during an election in Montreal and three Canadians were killed. An enquiry held by a grand jury exonerated the army of all blame and the fact that Governor Aylmer accepted its conclusions led to a revival of constitutional conflict. At the end of the session, a vote of censure was passed against Aylmer as part of the tactic of harassment by the deputies on the question of subsidies and of the eligibility of members of the Legislative Council. The scene was set for an escalation of political conflict that was not only one between individuals but between social classes.

The 92 Resolutions were deposited in the Chamber of the Assembly of Lower Canada on 17 February 1834. Thomas Chapais attributed the genesis of this text to a small committee composed of Louis-Joseph Papineau, Elzéar Bédard, Augustin-Norbert Morin[1] and Louis Bourdages and stated that it spent five consecutive nights finalising its preparation.[2] More recent research, however, suggests that Papineau was the main inspiration behind the text and that Augustin-Norbert Morin acted largely as its drafter. There is some doubt today of the extent of participation by Bédard. Chapais maintained that this was limited to his presentation of the document to the Assembly largely to satisfy his vanity. In effect, it was a strategy designed to persuade the Patriote deputies in the region of Quebec who were very tempted to give in to appeals for moderation from the governor Lord Aylmer. In a letter to his wife, Papineau called Bédard the ‘père putatif’ of the 92 Resolutions. After a stormy debate that lasted five days in full committee, the 92 Resolutions were adopted on 22 February by 56 votes to 23. John Neilson, Andrew Stewart and Joseph Quesnel, Patriote deputies or ex-deputies formed part of the opposition. Once the document was adopted, Papineau prepared an address that was approved by the Chamber on 1 March. Added to a petition and with some annexes, it was entrusted to Augustin-Norbert Morin to carry to the House of Commons in London.

The primary objective of the 92 Resolutions was to draw the attention of the British government to the discontented situation that existed in Lower Canada as a result of the poor operation of a system of government that was judged to be inadequate. A list of grievances but also a political manifesto, the 92 Resolutions represented the sum of all the demands that the Parti canadien then le Parti Patriote had accumulated in the course of their battle to obtain responsible government since the Constitutional Act of 1791.

After having affirmed their loyalty and the attachment of the Canadien people to the British Crown (resolutions 1-8), the document launches into an attack on the Legislative Council, the seat of all that is wrong in the colony (resolutions 9-40). It is not only the method of nomination to the Council that is criticised but equally ways in which it operated especially its role in vetoing the legislative powers of the Assembly. Between 1822 and 1834, it had rejected 302 laws approved by the Assembly. The Resolutions demanded that the Council should be transformed into an elective body. Since the early 1830s, the Parti Patriote had changed tack and moved away from the question of subsidies as a way of attacking the Legislative Council. In the following section (resolutions 41-47), they demanded that political institutions should reflect the social state of French Canadians using the example of the American Revolution (48-50) and the problem of French Canadian rights especially their language. Yvan Lamonde argues that

Les États-Unis sont présentés comme un modèle contre les abus, comme un rappel de la différence sociale entre les Amériques et l’Europe et donc comme le paradis de l’électivité des fonctions civiques. Et il se pourrait même, de l’avis des ‘résolutionnaires’, que les colonies britanniques d’Amérique du Nord fassent un jour ce que firent les colonies du Sud en 1776. [3]

Resolutions 64-74 considered the control of public funds by the Assembly and in 79-83 it called for the same powers, privileges and immunities as the British Parliament. Among their particular grievances were: the governor Lord Aylmer (resolution 85), the secretary of the colony and the issue of the expulsions of Dominique Mondelet and Robert Christie (resolution 63). There was also the question of the weak representation of French Canadians in public office (resolution 75). Resolutions 56-72 concerned reform of the laws of tenure. Thomas Chapais estimated that

...au milieu de propositions justes et de plaintes légitimes, il s’y trouvait [dans les 92 Résolutions] des principes faux, des idées très aventureuses, des réclamations excessives... [4]

He relied on the evidence of Chauveau who regretted the substance of these proposed reformed ‘au nom des idées démocratiques et républicaines’ and that they had distinguished between the two main political positions. Chauveau thought that certain resolutions, especially 37 were poor because they suggested revolutionary tendencies and a liking for the neighbouring republic, a position likely to offend more conservative elements in society.[5] In May 1834, the Gazette de Québec of John Neilson, was not afraid to maintain that it is ‘une révolution dans toute la force du terme que les auteurs des 92 Résolutions demandent et fomentent’[6]. More recently, Fernand Ouellet judged that ‘les menaces de sécession sont moins significatives que l’extraordinaire concentration de la critique politique sur le Conseil législatif’. To him, there is no doubt that this nationalist manifesto was able to be perceived by radicals, Catholics and liberal Anglophones as a democratic manifesto.[7] Be that as it may, in addition to confirming the split between the Québec and Montréal wings of the Parti Patriote, the 92 Resolutions represented a major shift in its political agenda: the document established an ‘electoral programme’ in the great public assemblies that began in May and led to the elections in November 1834 when the party took 78 of the possible 84 deputies. The revelation of the secret orders to Gosford in 1836 and the publication of Russell’s response, the 10 Resolutions in March 1837 contributed to a process of radicalisation that ended with the decent into open rebellion.

The Canadians were excluded from the spheres of political influence and wished to change the situation. First of all, they used the democratic and peaceful means at their disposal such as the 92 Resolutions.[8] It was the recognition of its impotence that the Patriote movement was radicalised. It was only after the rejection of the 92 Resolutions by the British government that there was an upsurge of violence between the partisans of the Patriotes and the loyalist organisations. The Patriote party did not preach a priori the independence of Lower Canada.[9] The idea of secession did not take a concrete form until after the first insurrection of November 1837.


[1] Augustin Norbert Morin (1803-1865) founded La Minerve in 1828 (with Benjamin Viger) and was elected deputy for the comté de Bellechasse in 1830. After the rebellion of 1837, where he proved ineffective in his role as commander of the patriotes of Quebec, he became minister for Crown Lands in the cabinet of Baldwin-Lafontaine (1842) and a judge in the Supreme Court in 1855.

[2] Chapais, Thomas, Cours d’histoire du Canada, Vol. IV, (J.-P. Garneau), 1923, p. 17.

[3] Lamonde, Yvan, Histoire sociale des idées au Québec (1760-1896), Vol. 1, (Les Éditions Fides), 2000, p. 123.

[4] Chapais, Thomas, Cours d’histoire du Canada, Vol. VII, (J.-P. Garneau), 1933, p. 25.

[5] Chapais, Thomas, Cours d’histoire du Canada, Vol. VII, (J/-P. Garneau), 1933, p. 26

[6] Ibid, Lamonde, Yvan, Histoire sociale des idées au Québec (1760-1896), p. 125.

[7] Ibid, Ouellet, Fernand, Histoire économique et sociale du Québec, 1760-1850: structures et conjuncture, p. 357.

[8] Filteau, Gérard, Histoire des Patriotes, new edition, (Septentrion), 2003, chapter 2

[9] Canet, Raphaël, Nationalisme et société au Québec, (Athéna), 2003, p. 141.

1 comment:

Carmen said...

Very interesting, you go in depth with the information you offer. My daughter had to do research on the 92 Resolutions and I got interested by it's relevance to our issues today. I have been writing about these issues in my blog http://www.empowernetwork.com/thenewhappyme/blog/category/je-me-souviens/ Je me souviens category.