Friday, 4 March 2011

Patriote notions of independence

The genesis of modern Quebec nationalism is intimately linked to the Patriote movement that from the outset was liberal, progressive and republican. Patriotes championed the principle of ministerial responsibility, attacked political corruption, defended freedom of the press and the principle of social justice, but the movement is not thought to have advocated national independence. This is reflected in the cursory treatment of the Patriote contribution by Maurice Séguin in his Histoire de l’idée d’indépendance.[1] However, no event within Quebecois nationalism is more akin to its modern formulation than the Patriote movement led by Louis Joseph Papineau. Like contemporary neo-nationalists, he defined civic identity through political and democratic liberty where a secular state preserved the culture and language especially through education and integration of immigrants.

Since the 1960s there has been a widespread belief that the francophone community in Quebec is an endangered society and that, for it to survive, it needs to assume independent sovereignty as the only francophone state in North America. However, such reasoning did not exist in 1837 largely because the principle of nationality was still in an embryonic form. Bolivar, O’Connell, Papineau and De Lorimier were products of the Enlightenment and their focus lay primarily with the defence of politically oppressed people rather than with rescuing a national community that was worth protecting. Patriote thinking, whether in newspapers, political essays or speeches was first and foremost a matter of defending the rights of the ‘majority’ against abuse by the ‘minority’ in the name of justice and equity, despite considerations of language, culture or identity. Allusions to the French heritage were on balance few and were expressed in terms not of nationality but of rights to be protected as ‘sacred property of the people and must therefore be defended enthusiastically by its representatives.’ Whether the idea of independence was for Patriotes a logical and inevitable consequence of the achievement of democratic rights is debatable since, apart from the declaration of independence in February 1838 proclaimed in particular to consolidate support for the coalition led by Robert Nelson and Cyrille-Hector-Octave Côté, the idea of Lower Canadian independence was not the subject of intense discussion largely because it seemed inevitable. For Papineau and his followers, there was a sense of urgency to determine the political and social conditions that could bring about the birth of the new State because ‘It is certain that before little time has passed, all of America must be republican.’

However, as political and constitutional developments after the rebellions demonstrate, the Patriote argument that achieving fundamental rights such as free press, honest government, impartial judges and ministers accountable to elected representatives or the democratisation of Lower Canada did not inevitably lead to independence. Responsible government created a colonial state with devolved powers that was accounatble to the people and that could protect francophone minority rights within a state constitutionally linked to the British imperial state. Although calls for an independent sovereign French state were legitimate Patriote aspirations, the Patriote plan to achieve independence had more than one possible outcome.

Patriote discourse evolved towards a more radical position from the first editorials of Le Canadian in 1806 to the Declaration of Independence of Lower Canada in 1838. Central to the development of the idea of independence and to the ideological cohesion of the movement was Louis-Joseph Papineau, from his election to the West Ward of Montreal in 1808 through to his final attempt to rally the support of France and the United States in 1838-1839. In his leadership of the successful opposition to the ‘Tory plot’ to unite Upper and Lower Canada in 1822-1823 and his confrontation with Dalhousie over subsidies in 1827-1828, Papineau was the major influence on the course of events. During the 1820s, Patriotes sought to remove corruption from high public office and to increase the powers of elected representatives. However, in the early 1830, Papineau took his party in a more radical direction calling for the election of the Legislative Council and the responsibility of the executive to the Assembly. These two principles, direct election of the Legislative Council and political accountability of the executive, were at the heart of the 92 Resolutions and of all almost of the public meetings held in 1837.

The case for independence can be found in other documents as well as the 92 Resolutions.

 

Title

Authors

Date

Size

Link with the idea of independence

92 Resolutions

L.-J. Papineau, A.-N. Morin, E. Bedard

February 1834

15, 210 words

Independence was inherent in the achievement of democratic rights and increases in the power of elected representatives

Resolutions of Saint-Ours

Unknown

7 May 1837

1,520 words

The people only source of legitimacy. The Imperial Parliament has no right to conduct business

Speech at St-Laurent

L.-J. Papineau

15 May 1837

12, 130 words

The people have the duty to replace the imperial authority that has shown itself to be unfit to govern Canada

Adresse des Fils de la liberté de Montréal aux jeunes gens des colonies de l’Amérique du Nord

Andre Ouimet

4 October 1837

2,800 words

It is the destiny of all North America to follow the path charted by the United States

Speech to the Confédération des Six Comtés au peuple du Canada

L.-J. Papineau, Amury Girod and Pierre Boucher-Belleville

24 October 1837

2,800 words

The foundations for a constituent assembly to give a new constitution in Canada

Declaration of independence of Lower Canada

Cyrille-Hector-Octave Côté and Robert Nelson

28 February 1838

926 words

Complete independence of Canada with a republican government

Testament politique

Chevalier De Lorimier

15 February 1839

703 words

The idea of independence is inseparable from the struggle for democratic rights and freedom

The assembly of Saint-Ours on 7 May 1837 was the Patriote response the Russell Resolutions details of which had reached Lower Canada the previous month. The Declaration of Saint-Ours consisted of a preamble and eleven resolutions restating the historical claims of the Patriotes and denouncing the colonial administration for usurping constitutional rights vested in the Assembly. The eighth resolution is probably the best known and called for a boycott of British goods in order to deprive the British administration of revenue collected in the colony. But Saint-Ours marked a turning point by openly addressing the breaking of colonial ties, ‘Ne nous regardant plus liés que par la force au gouvernement anglais.’ The resolutions of Saint-Ours were printed in the Patriote press on 8 and May 9 and served as a model for resolutions passed elsewhere along the St. Lawrence during the summer of 1837.

A week later, a large gathering was held at St. Laurent culminating in a speech by Louis-Joseph Papineau that was of a size and quality that stands out from other of his orations. Papineau tokk up the calls for a boycott and sovereignty of the people made at Saint-Ours: ‘C'est la marche qu'ont pris les Américains, dix ans avant de combattre. Ils ont bien commencé, et ils ont bien fini dans des circonstances semblables à celles où nous sommes placés.’ Carefully prepared in advance, the speech was publicised by the Patriote press the following day. Papineau reiterated his views at meetings at St. Scholastique on 1 June, Berthier on 18 June, in Quebec City on 28 June, where he was the guest of honor, at Acadia on 16 July, the day after in Napierville, then Kamouraska, Saint-Thomas de Montmagny, L’Assumption and Varennes, as late as 10 September. This series of speeches represented the culmination of Papineau’s radicalism but was followed by an ideological retreat to avoid slipping into revolution.

On 4 October 4, young Montrealers of the radical Fils de la Liberté published their Adresse des Fils de la liberté de Montréal aux jeunes gens des colonies de l’Amérique du Nord. It contained explicit allusions to the American Revolution and the idea of independence: ‘

L’autorité d’une mère-patrie sur une colonie ne peut exister qu’aussi longtemps que cela peut plaire aux colons qui l’habitent; car ayant été établi et peuplé par ces colons, ce pays leur appartient de droit, et par conséquent peut être séparé de toute connexion étrangère toutes les fois que les inconvénients rendent une telle démarche nécessaire à ses habitants.

The address of the Fils de la Liberté caused some concern in the entourage of Papineau because of its vocal radicalism.

Three weeks later, the speech to the Confédération des Six Comtés au peuple du Canada even more openly expressed the idea of independence and reflected less the thinking of Papineau as that of Amury Girod and Pierre Boucher-Belleville. The meeting was held at St. Charles on 22 and 23 October to lay the foundation for a confederation of comtés to the south of Montreal prior to the convening of a constituent assembly of delegates from Lower Canada in December 1837 to draft a new constitution for Lower Canada. Meanwhile, the address of the Six Comtés stated that

...les autorités publiques et les hommes au pouvoir ne sont que les exécuteurs des vœux légitimement exprimés de la communauté qui doivent être déplacés du pouvoir dès qu'ils cessent de donner satisfaction au peuple, seule source légitime de tout pouvoir.

After the defeat of the first rebellion in November and December 1837, hundreds of rebels fled to the United States and from the states of New York and Vermont took part in ‘raids’ intended to harass British troops and cause a border dispute with the United States. The incursion of 28 February 1838 and the declaration of independence in Caldwell Manor was one such operation. Terse, direct and fundamentally radical, the Statement proclaimed at the outset

Qu'à compter de ce jour, le Peuple du Bas-Canada est absous de toute allégeance à la Grande-Bretagne, et que toute connexion politique entre cette puissance et le Bas-Canada cesse dès ce jour.

The influence of Papineau, who preferred an approach through diplomatic channels with the United States and France, was now missing from its eighteen articles and they were the work of Nelson and Côté. Although it represented a declaration of independence, it included some of the older demands concerning seigneurial tenure, imprisonment for debt and the monopoly of the British American Land Company in an attempt to garner cooperation from those who still supported Papineau. The Statement was reissued after 4 November in Napierville during the second rebellion. It had no historical influence but provides evidence of nascent modernity of Patriote thought.

The brutal repression of the rebellion in November 1838 saw 816 prisoners crowded in Montreal gaol. Their letters provide a valuable insight into Patriote thinking in defeat, among them the political testament written by the notary François-Marie-Thomas Chevalier De Lorimier on the eve of his execution on 15 February 1838. It is distinguished by its formal quality and skillfully distilled emotion appeal but was unusual since it did not adopt the rhetoric of English lawyers, but the ideas of the Enlightenment and the founding fathers of American independence by ending with ‘Long live freedom, long live independence.’

Despite the importance of the statements made in 1837 and 1838, none had greater influence than the 92 Resolutions or were so widely disseminated across all Patriote publications until 1837. Although it is important to stress that this was not inevitable, politically, the 92 Resolutions in 1834 began the process that culminated in the rebellions in 1837 and 1838 because they caused the recall of Lord Aylmer and the creation of Gosford commission whose conclusions led to Russell’s Ten Resolutions in March 1837. The 92 Resolutions represent an ideological standard against which we must judge Patriotic rhetoric on issues such as the idea of independence. The critical question is whether or not the Resolutions were a statement for more than calls for parliamentary sovereignty. Other texts were often more patriotic and contained more hard-hitting messages but they did not have either the broad appeal of the 92 Resolutions or Papineau’s authority behind them.

The 92 Resolutions were in the tradition of the humble petitions submitted to the British Parliament, a political process that Canadian reformers had mastered since 1791. Their origins can be traced back to the political crisis of 1828 that resulted in the recall of the unpopular Dalhousie and parliamentary commission that reported on the complaints of Lower Canadian representatives. One of the reasons for the Resolutions in 1834, as expressed in Resolution 8, was Patriote impatience that

...les recommandations du comité de la Chambre des Communes n’ont été suivies d’aucun résultat efficace et de nature à produire l’effet désiré.

More generally, the humanitarian crisis of cholera in 1832, a by-election in Montreal West where three Patriotes are killed by British troops and the appointment of opponents to the Executive Council led Papineau to express Patriote grievances at the solemn opening of the session.

Written quickly at the beginning of 1834, over five consecutive nights by a small group including Louis-Joseph Papineau and Augustin-Norbert Morin at the house of Elzéar Bedard in the rue d’Auteuil, Quebec City, the Resolutions were ready for the start of the session. On 14 February, the Assembly established a Committee of the Whole House to ‘take into consideration the state of the province’. Both as a statement of grievances and as a political manifesto, the 92 Resolutions represented the sum of the complaints and claims accumulated by the Parti Patriote since the early parliamentary struggles. On occasions difficult to understand and over moralistic in tone, they were intended less to incite Lower Canadian voters than to warn the British government of the parlous situation in the colony, something effectively summarised in the Resolution 88

...de travailler à l’amélioration des lois et de la constitution de cette province, en la manière demandée par le peuple ; à la réparation pleine et entière des abus et griefs, dont il a à se plaindre, et à ce que les lois et constitutions soient administrées à l’avenir d’une manière qui se concilie avec la justice, l’honneur de la couronne et du peuple anglais, et les libertés, privilèges et droits des habitants de cette province et de cette chambre qui les représente.

This required the repeal of the 1791 Constitutional Act because it had palpably failed to deliver effective and responsive governance.

Having recalled the loyalty and commitment of the Canadian people to the British Crown, especially during the wars against America in 1775 and 1812 (res. 1-8), the document then turned to the question of the Legislative Council, the source of all evils of the colony (res. 9-40). It criticised its method of appointment, its collusion with the executive and its obstruction to Assembly legislation (302 projects was blocked between 1822 and 1834). Since the turn of the 1830s, the Parti Patriote had shifted its position abandoning the issue of subsidies to focus on the Legislative Council calling for its members to be elected by the people and, in Resolution 21‘que les sujets de Sa Majesté en Canada n’eussent rien à envier aux Américains.’ Resolutions 41 to 47 called for political institutions that conform to the social status of French Canadians and in the succeeding resolution for the triumph of the elective principle to make institutions more ‘popular’. It then discussed the example of the American Revolution (res. 48 to 50), denounced denial of the rights of French Canadians (res. 51 to 55) and an end to existing laws of tenure (res. 56-62). Resolutions 64-74 reiterated demands for control over the budget by the Assembly and Resolution 75 to 78 denounced the administration of justice. Resolutions 79 to 83 demanded that the Assembly should have the same powers, privileges and immunities as those enjoyed by the Imperial Parliament. Resolution 84 listed specific complaints about the composition of the Executive Council, the exorbitant fees charged by the administrative and judicial branches of government, the bias of judges and the total of places and jobs. In Resolution 85, the Aylmer was attacked and indicted for corruption. Resolution 86 demanded the ‘independence’ for the two councils while the two succeeding resolutions expressed gratitude to Daniel O’Connell and Joseph Hume for their support. Resolution 89 established committees of correspondence in Quebec and Montreal to keep abreast of developments in the British House of Commons and Resolutions 90 and 91 asked Denis-Benjamin Viger to continue to act as the Assembly’s agent in London. Resolution 92 agreed to delete the Governor’s inaugural message from the Journal of Assembly. Later Resolutions 93 and 84 were added denouncing the monopoly of the British American Land Company.

The most pressing issue was not a call for national independence but an appeal for the sovereignty of Assembly. This is clearly stated in Resolutions 49 and 79

…Les privilèges de cette Chambre ne doivent ni être mis en question, ni définis par le secrétaire colonial.

…que cette chambre, comme représentant le peuple de cette province, possède le droit, et a exercé de fait dans cette province, quand l’occasion l’a requis, les pouvoirs, privilèges et immunités réclamés et possédés par la Chambre des Communes du parlement, dans le Royaume-Uni de la Grande-Bretagne et l’Irlande.

Parliamentary sovereignty was seen as a solution to the mismanagement of Lower Canada, something emphasised in Resolution 58

La législature provinciale aurait été tout-à-fait compétente à passer des lois, pour permettre le rachat de ces charges, d’une manière qui s’harmoniât avec les intérêts de toutes les parties […] et, le parlement du Royaume-Uni, bien moins à portée de statuer d’une manière équitable sur un sujet aussi compliquée, n’a pu avoir lieu que dans des vues de spéculation illégales, et de bouleversement dans les lois du pays. 

The critical issue raised in the 92 Resolution was political independence and laid down a framework for the transition in relations between Britain and its colony. Resolution 21 stated

Que le parlement du Royaume-Uni conserve des relations amicales avec cette province comme colonie, tant que durera notre liaison, et comme alliée, si la suite des temps amenait des relations nouvelles.

While Resolution 43 maintained that

La constitution et le forme de gouvernement qui conviendrait le mieux à cette colonie, ne doivent se chercher uniquement dans les analogies que présentent les institutions de la Grande-Bretagne, dans un état de société tout-à-fait différent du nôtre ; qu’on devrait plutôt mettre à profit l’observation des effets qu’ont produits les différentes constitutions infiniment variées, que les rois et le parlement anglais ont données à différentes plantations et colonies en Amérique.

The argument is that there is conflict between Anglophones and Francophones is challenged on several occasions and in reality has been instigated by the colonial authorities. In Resolution 55

Que les vœux de la grande majorité de la classe des sujets de Sa Majesté d’origine britannique sont unis et communs avec ceux d’origine française et parlant de la langue française.

However, the Assembly did not deny its commitment to the defence of the French language and culture. In Resolution 52,

Que la majorité des habitants du pays n’est nullement disposée à répudier aucun des avantages qu’elle tire de son origine et de sa descendance de la nation française, […] de qui ce pays tient la plus partie de ses lois civiles et ecclésiastiques, la plupart de ses établissements d’enseignement et de charité, et la religion, la langue, les habitudes, les mœurs et les usages de la grande majorité de ses habitants.

Once tabled, the Resolutions triggered five days of heated debate between a majority of MPs loyal to Papineau resolutions, and a minority led by John Neilson, who then broken with Papineau. Papineau gave a long fiery speech in which he summarised the political events of the previous fifty in support of the Resolutions and Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine[2], Sabrevois de Bleury, George Vanfelson and Louis Bourdages followed but with less enthusiasm.

While Papineau insisted on an elected Legislative Council because ‘C'est sur cette question que nous devons être prêts à décider, à tout blâmer ou à tout approuver, à dire que tout est bien ou que tout est mal sans nous occuper ni voir ce que pensent’,  his opponents, including Bartholomew Gugy, Andrew Stuart and John Neilson argued that the impact of the Resolutions would be ‘a real declaration of independence which any subject of Her Majesty do not support.’ In Quebec Gazette it was ‘une révolution dans toute la force du terme que les auteurs des 92 Résolutions demandent et fomentent’. For Gugy, the resolutions, ‘qu'ils nous présentent comme le fruit de tant de recherches, sont un chef d'œuvre de démencw...Une foule d'accusations vagues et hazardées, une multitude d'expressions peu mesurées et injurieuses, l'exagération dans les sentimens, les erreurs dans les faits.’ Opponents contrasted many of the radical resolutions with the stability that existed in the province. Governor Aylmer commented that ‘They represent a move away from the moderation and urbanity well known as a characteristic of the Canadian...When your 92 Resolutions were adopted all the people outside this Assembly were enjoying a moment of the deepest tranquility.’ Gugy though that

...Mais c’est une idée de distinction qui n’entre pas même dans la tête des habitans de nos…paisibles campagnes. C’est une idée de trouble et de dissension qui n'est née que dans cette Chambre [...] Ces flatteurs du peuple veulent lui faire croire qu'il est malheureux quand il est heureux.

The 92 Resolutions were adopted at third reading on 22 February by 56 votes against 23. As a speaker, Papineau then prepares an address approved by the House on 1 March and attached to the text of resolutions, schedules, and an impressive petition of 78,000 names. These were given to Augustin-Norbert Morin, who was responsible for delivering the document to the British House of Commons. The Resolutions then served as platform for public meetings starting as early as March and concluding with the emphatic Patriote victory in the November elections where they won 78 ofthe 88 Assembly seats.

Historians have generally been critical of the 92 Resolutions in which they find little of merit. To Narcisse-Eutrope Dionne, the original text of the 92 Resolutions is long and tedious. Thomas Chapais stated ironically that ‘They are seen as a kind of national gospel and in the eyes of many they became the touchstone of true patriotism’ and that ‘among the fair and legitimate complaints, there were some false principles, very adventurous ideas and excessive claims’. Fernand Ouellet argues that ‘...there is no doubt that this nationalist manifesto could be seen by radicals, Catholics and English liberals as a revolutionary manifesto, [but that] threats of secession were less significant than the extraordinary concentration of political criticism in the Legislative Council.’ On the issue of independence historians are either silent or unimpressed. For Daniel Latouche, ‘the 92 Resolutions are not the Magna Carta of Quebec independence, as they are often described in popular mythology.’ Michel Brunet stated that even if it was present, the idea of independence was vague and inconsistent. However, it is generally agreed that the 92 Resolutions clearly signalled an end to Patriote support for the British tradition and the rise of American republican rhetoric. For Louis-Georges Harvey, ‘With the 92 Resolutions, the dominance of the American model in the political discourse of the Patriote movement is no longer in doubt.’

The 92 Resolutions have been accorded a significant status in the development of the Patriote movement and as a statement of the principles of parliamentary sovereignty and the need for devolved government. However, the Resolutions have largely failed to become one of the great documents of modern nationalist thought and the idea of independence. This is hardly surprising since they were not written as a statement of nationalist independence nor, despite whispers in the test, were they intended to be viewed in this light. In this sense, more modest documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Political Testament better represent current sensibilities and are more easily accommodated within the genesis of the idea of an independent Quebec.


[1] Séguin, Maurice, L’idée d’indépendance au Québec: genèse et historique, (Éditions Boréal Express), 1977.

[2] Lafontaine’s view can best be seen in his Les deux girouettes, ou, hypocrisie démasquée, (Imprimerie de las Minerve), 1834 in which he answered Dominique and Charles Mondelet, who had denounced the Ninety-Two Resolutions as traitorous and revolutionary, by insisting that those resolutions gave a fair account of colonial grievances and by pointing out that the demand for an elective legislative council had originally been made by Charles Mondelet himself in 1826. A ‘giroutte’ is a weather vane or a person who often changes his mind.

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