Citation:
J.M. Bliss ed., Canadian History in Documents, 1763-1996 (Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1996), pp. 49-62


V:I LORD DURHAM'S REPORT, 1839

Lord Durham spent only five months in the Canadas and less than two weeks in Upper Canada. His Report contained many inaccuracies about Upper Canada and was bitterly resented in Lower Canada for its unsympathetic view of French Canadians. Its major recommendation, responsible government, originated with the Baldwins and other moderate reformers rather than with Lord Durham himself. Nevertheless, the Report is perhaps the most significant document in Canadian history, as well as a milestone in the history of the British Empire. Once the doctrine of responsible government had been accepted and promoted by an official of the British government, ultimate implementation was virtually assured. Here was both a relatively simple solution to the twenty-year deadlock in the Canadas and a giant first step toward eventual independence from Great Britain.

The excerpts given below cover Durham's analysis of the problems and his major recommendations, but the entire Report should be studied for a full appreciation of its value. [50]


TO THE QUEEN'S MOST EXCELLENT MAJESTY

. . . the evils I had it in charge to remedy are evils which no civilized community can long continue to bear. There is no class or section of Your Majesty's subjects in either of the Canadas, that does not suffer from both the existing disorder and the doubt which hangs over the future form and policy of the Government. While the present state of things is allowed to last, the actual inhabitants of these Provinces have no security for person or property, no enjoyment of what they possess, no stimulus to industry. The development of the vast resources of these extensive territories is arrested; and the population, which should be attracted to fill and fertilize them, is directed into foreign states. Every day during which a final and stable settlement is delayed, the condition of the Colonies becomes worse, the minds of men more exasperated, and the success of any scheme of adjustment more precarious.


LOWER CANADA

. . . I expected to find a contest between a government and a people: I found two nations warring in the bosom of a single state: I found a struggle, not of principles, but of races; and I perceived that it would be idle to attempt any amelioration of laws or institutions until we could first succeed in terminating the deadly animosity that now separates the inhabitants of Lower Canada into the hostile divisions of French and English.

. . . The national feud forces itself on the very senses, irresistibly and palpably, as the origin or the essence of every dispute which divides the community; we discover that dissensions, which appear to have another origin, are but forms of this constant and all-pervading quarrel; and that every contest is one of French and English in the outset, or becomes so ere it has run its course.

. . . The French majority asserted the most democratic doctrines of the rights of a numerical majority. The English minority availed itself of the protection of the prerogative, [51] and allied itself with all those of the colonial institutions which enabled the few to resist the will of the many. But when we look to the objects of each party, the analogy, to our own politics seems to be lost, if not actually reversed; the French appear to have used their democratic arms for conservative purposes, rather than those of liberal and enlightened movement; and the sympathies of the friends of reform are naturally enlisted on the side of sound amelioration which the English minority in vain attempted to introduce into the antiquated laws of the Province.

. . . The ascendancy which an unjust favouritism had contributed to give to the English race in the government and the legal profession, their own superior energy, skill and capital secured to them in every branch of industry. They have developed the resources of the country; they have constructed or improved its means of communication; they have created its internal and foreign commerce. The entire wholesale, and a large portion of the retail trade of the Province, with the most profitable and flourishing farms, are now in the hands of this numerical minority of the population.

. . . It is not any where a virtue of the English race to look with complacency on any manners, customs or laws which appear strange to them; accustomed to form a high estimate of their own superiority, they take no pains to conceal from others their contempt and intolerance of their usages. They found the French Canadians filled with an equal amount of national pride; a sensitive, but inactive pride, which disposes that people not to resent insult, but rather to keep aloof from those who would keep them under. The French could not but feel the superiority of English enterprise; they could not shut their eyes to their success in every undertaking in which they came into contact, and to the constant superiority which they were acquiring. They looked upon their rivals with alarm, with jealousy, and finally with hatred. The English repaid them with a scorn, which soon also assumed the same form of hatred. The French complained of the arrogance and injustice of the English; the English accused the French of the [52] vices of a weak and conquered people, and charged them with meanness and perfidy. . . .

The English population, an immigrant and enterprising population; looked on the American Provinces as a vast field for settlement and speculation, and in the common spirit of the Anglo-Saxon inhabitants of that continent, regarded it as the chief business of the Government, to promote, by all possible use of its legislative and administrative powers, the increase of population and the accumulation of property; . . .

Without going so far as to accuse the Assembly of a deliberate design to check the settlement and improvement of Lower Canada, it cannot be denied that they looked with considerable jealousy and dislike on the increase and prosperity of what they regarded as a foreign and hostile race; they looked on the Province as the patrimony of their own race; they viewed it not as a country to be settled, but as one already settled; and instead of legislating in the American spirit, and first providing for the future population of the Province, their primary care was, in the spirit of legislation which prevails in the old world, to guard the interests and feelings of the present race of inhabitants, to whom they considered the new-comers as subordinate; . . .

A jealousy between two races, so long habituated to regard each other with hereditary enmity, and so differing in habits, in language and in laws, would have been inevitable under any form of government. That liberal institutions and a prudent policy might have changed the character of the struggle I have no doubt; but they could not have prevented it; they could only have softened its character, and brought it more speedily a more decisive and peaceful conclusion. Unhappily, however, the system of government pursued in Lower Canada has been based on the policy of perpetuating that very separation of the races, and encouraging these very notions of conflicting nationalities which it ought to have been the first and chief care of Government to check and extinguish. From the period of the conquest to the present time, the conduct of the Government has aggravated the evil, and the origin of the [53] present extreme disorder may be found in the institutions by which the character of the colony was determined.

. . . It may fairly be said, that the natural state of government in all these Colonies is that of collision between the Executive and the representative body. In all of them the administration of public affairs is habitually confided to those who do not co-operate harmoniously with the popular branch of the legislature; and the Government is constantly proposing measures which the majority of the Assembly reject, and refusing its assent to bills which that body has passed. . . .

The powers for which the Assembly contended, appear in both instances to be such as it was perfectly justified in demanding. It is difficult to conceive what could have been their theory of government who imagined that in any colony of England a body invested with the name and character of a representative Assembly, could be deprived of any of those powers which, in the opinion of Englishmen, are inherent in a popular legislature. . . .

From the commencement, therefore, to the end of the disputes which mark the whole Parliamentary history of Lower Canada, I look on the conduct of the Assembly as a constant warfare with the executive, for the purpose of obtaining the powers inherent in a representative body by the very nature of representative government. It was to accomplish this purpose, that it used every means in its power; but it must be censured for having, in pursuit of this object, perverted its powers of legislation, and disturbed the whole working of the constitution. It made the business of legislation, and the practical improvement of the country, subordinate to its struggle for power; and, being denied its legitimate privileges, it endeavoured to extend its authority in modes totally incompatible with the principles of constitutional liberty. . . .


UPPER CANADA

. . . In the preceding account of the working of the constitutional system in Lower Canada, I have described the effect which the irresponsibility of the real advisers of the Governor [54] had in lodging permanent authority in the hands of a powerful party, linked together not only by common interests, but in personal ties. But in none of the North American Provinces has this exhibited itself for so long a period or to such an extent, as in Upper Canada, which has long been entirely governed by a party commonly designated throughout the Province as the ‘family compact', a name not much more appropriate than party designations usually are, inasmuch as there is, in truth, very little of family connexion among the persons thus united. For a long time this body of men, receiving at times accessions to its numbers, possessed almost all the highest public offices, by means of which, and of its influence in the Executive Council, it wielded all the powers of government; it maintained influence in the legislature by means of its predominance in the Legislative Council; and it disposed of the large number of petty posts which are in the patronage of the Government all over the Province. Successive Governors, as they came in their turn, are said to have either submitted quietly to its influence, or, after a short and unavailing struggle, to have yielded to this well-organized party the real conduct of affairs. The bench, the magistracy, the high offices of the Episcopal Church, and a great part of the legal profession, are filled by the adherents of this party: by grant or purchase, they have acquired nearly the whole of the waste lands of the Province; they are all-powerful in the chartered banks, and, till lately, shared among themselves almost exclusively all offices of trust and profit. The bulk of this party consists, for the most part, of native-born inhabitants of the Colony, or of emigrants who settled in it before the last war with the United States; the principal members of it belong to the Church of England, and the maintenance of the claims of that church has always been one of its distinguishing, characteristics.

A monopoly of power so extensive and so lasting could not fail, in process of time, to excite envy, create dissatisfaction and ultimately provoke attack; and an opposition consequently grew up in the Assembly which assailed the ruling [55] party, by appealing to popular principles of government, by denouncing the alleged jobbing and profusion of the official body, and by instituting inquiries into abuses, for the purpose of promoting reform, and especially economy. . . .

It was upon this question of the responsibility of the Executive Council that the great struggle has for a long time been carried on between the official party and the reformers; for the official party, like all parties long in power, was naturally unwilling to submit itself to any such responsibility as would abridge its tenure, or cramp its exercise of authority. Reluctant to acknowledge any responsibility to the people of the Colony, this party appears to have paid a somewhat refractory and nominal submission to the Imperial Government, relying in fact on securing a virtual independence by this nominal submission to the distant authority of the Colonial Department, or to the powers of a Governor, over whose policy they were certain, by their facilities of access, to obtain a paramount influence. . . .

During, all this time, however, though much irritation had been caused by the exclusive claims of the Church of England, and the favour shown by the Government to one, and that a small religious community, the clergy of that church, though an endowed, were not a dominant, priesthood. They had a far larger share of the public money than the clergy of any other denomination; but they had no exclusive privileges, and no authority, save such as might spring from their efficient discharge of their sacred duties, or from the energy, ability or influence of members of their body. But the last public act of Sir John Colborne, before quitting the Government of the Province in 1835, which was the establishment of the fifty seven rectories, has completely changed the aspect of the question. . . . This is regarded by all other teachers of religion in the country as having at once degraded them to a position of legal inferiority to the clergy of the Church of England; and it has been resented most warmly. In the opinion of many persons, this was the chief predisposing cause of the recent [56] insurrection, and it is an abiding and unabated cause of discontent. . . .

. . . The apparent right which time and custom give to the maintenance of an ancient and respected institution cannot exist in a recently settled country, in which every thing is new; and the establishment of a dominant church there is a creation of exclusive privileges in favour of one out of many religious denominations, and that composing a small minority, at the expense not merely of the majority, but of many as large minorities. . . .

It is most important that this question should be settled, and so settled as to give satisfaction to the majority of the people of the two Canadas, whom it equally concerns. And I know of no mode of doing this but by repealing all provisions in Imperial Acts that relate to the application of the clergy reserves and the funds arising from them, leaving the disposal of the funds to the local legislature and acquiescing in whatever decision it may adopt. . . .

In addition . . . there are permanent causes of discontent, resulting from the existence of deep-seated impediments in the way of its industrial progress. The Province is without any of those means by which the resources of a country are developed, and the civilization of a people is advanced or upheld. . . .

. . . A very considerable portion of the Province has neither roads, post offices, mills, schools, nor churches. The people may raise enough for their own subsistence, and may even have a rude and comfortless plenty, but they can seldom acquire wealth; nor can even wealthy land-owners prevent their children from growing up ignorant and boorish, and from occupying a far lower mental, moral and social position that they themselves fill. Their means of communication with each other, or the chief towns of the Province, are limited and uncertain. . . .

. . . The principal evils to which settlers in a new township are subject result from the scantiness of population. A township contains 80,000 acres of land; one-seventh is reserved for the [57] clergy and one-seventh for the Crown; consequently five-sevenths remain for the disposal of Government, a large proportion of which is taken up by grants to U.E. loyalists, militiamen, officers and others: the far greater part of these grants remain in an unimproved state. These blocks of wild land place the actual settler in an almost hopeless condition; he can hardly expect, during his lifetime, to see his neighbourhood contain a population sufficiently dense to support mills, schools, post-offices, places of worship, markets or shops; and without these, civilization retrogrades. . . .

GENERAL REVIEW AND RECOMMENDATIONS

. . . It is not in the terrors of the law, or in the might of our armies, that the secure and honourable bond of connexion is to be found. It exists in the beneficial operation of those British institutions which link the utmost development of freedom and civilization with the stable authority of an hereditary monarchy, and which, if rightly organized and fairly administered in the Colonies, as in Great Britain, would render a change of institutions only an additional evil to the loss of the protection and commerce of the British Empire.

. . . I rely on the efficacy of reform in the constitutional system by which these Colonies are governed, for the removal of every abuse in their administration which defective institutions have engendered. If a system can be devised which shall lay in these countries the foundation of an efficient and popular government, ensure harmony, in place of collision, between the various powers of the State, and bring the influence of a vigorous public opinion to bear on every detail of public affairs, we may rely on sufficient remedies being found for the present vices of the administrative system.

. . . It is not by weakening, but strengthening the influence of the people on its Government; by confining within much narrower bounds than those hitherto allotted to it, and not by extending the interference of the imperial authorities in the details of colonial affairs, that I believe that harmony is to be restored, where dissension has so long prevailed; and a regularity [58] and vigour hitherto unknown, introduced into the administration of these Provinces. It needs no change in the principles of government, no invention of a new constitutional theory, to supply the remedy which would, in my opinion, completely remove the existing political disorders. It needs but to follow out consistently the principles of the British Constitution, and introduce into the Government of these great Colonies those wise provisions, by which alone the working of the representative system can in any country be rendered harmonious and efficient. . . .

. . . Every purpose of popular control might be combined with every advantage of vesting the immediate choice of advisers in the Crown, were the Colonial Governor to be instructed to secure the co-operation of the Assembly in his policy, by entrusting its administration to such men as could command a majority; and if he were given to understand that he need count on no aid from home in any difference with the Assembly, that should not directly involve the relations between the mother country and the Colony. This change might be effected by a single dispatch containing such instructions; or if any legal enactment were requisite, it would only be one that would render it necessary that the official acts of the Governor should be countersigned by some public functionary. This would induce responsibility for every act of the Government, and, as a natural consequence, it would necessitate the substitution of a system of administration, by means of competent heads of departments, for the present rude machinery of an Executive Council. The Governor, if he wished to retain advisers not possessing the confidence of the existing Assembly, might rely on the effect of an appeal to the people, and, if unsuccessful, he might be coerced by a refusal of supplies, or his advisers might be terrified by the prospect of impeachment. But there can be no reason for apprehending that either party would enter on a contest, when each would find its interest in the maintenance of harmony; and the abuse of the powers which each would constitutionally [59] possess, would cease when the struggle for larger powers became unnecessary. . . .

. . . I admit that the system which I propose would, in fact, place the internal government of the Colony in the hands of the colonists themselves; and that we should thus leave to them the execution of the laws, of which we have long entrusted the making solely to them. Perfectly aware of the value of our colonial possessions, and strongly impressed with the necessity of maintaining our connexion with them, I know not in what respect it can be desirable that we should interfere with their internal legislation in matters which do not affect their relations with the mother country. The matters, which so concern us, are very few. The constitution of the form of government,–the regulation of foreign relations, and of trade with the mother country, the other British Colonies, and foreign nations,–and the disposal of the public lands, are the only points of which the mother country requires a control. . . . The colonists may not always know what laws are best for them, or which of their countrymen are the fittest for conducting their affairs; but, at least, they have a greater interest in coming to a right judgment on these points, and will take greater pains to do so than those whose welfare is very remotely and slightly affected by the good or bad legislation of these portions of the Empire. If the colonists make bad laws, and select improper persons to conduct their affairs, they will generally be the only, always the greatest, sufferers; and, like the people of other countries, they must bear the ills which they bring on themselves, until they choose to apply the remedy. . . .

. . . Instead of confiding the whole collection and distribution of all the revenues raised in any country for all general and local purposes to a single representative body, the power of local assessment, and the application of the funds arising from it, should be entrusted to local management. . . .

A plan by which it is proposed to ensure the tranquil government of Lower Canada, must include in itself the means of putting an end to the agitation of national disputes [60] in the legislature, by settling, and once and for ever, the national character of the Province. I entertain no doubts as to the national character which must be given to Lower Canada; it must be that of the British Empire; that of the majority of the population of British America; that of the great race which must, in the lapse of no long period of time, be predominant over the whole North American Continent. Without effecting the change so rapidly or so roughly as to shock the feelings and trample on the welfare of the existing generation, it must henceforth be the first and steady purpose of the British Government to establish an English population, with English laws and language, in this Province, and to trust its government to none but a decidedly English legislature.

. . . The English have already in their hands the majority of the larger masses of property in the country; they have the decided superiority of intelligence on their side; they have the certainty that colonization must swell their numbers to a majority; and they belong to the race which wields the Imperial Government, and predominates on the American Continent. If we now leave them in a minority, they will never abandon the assurance of being a majority hereafter, and never cease to continue the present contest with all the fierceness with which it now rages. . . .

On these grounds, I believe that no permanent or efficient remedy can be devised for the disorders of Lower Canada, except a fusion of the Government in that of one or more of the surrounding Provinces; and as I am of opinion that the full establishment of responsible government can only be permanently secured by giving these Colonies an increased importance in the politics of the Empire, I find in union the only means of remedying at once and completely the two prominent causes of their present unsatisfactory condition. . . .

If the population of Upper Canada is rightly estimated at 400,000, the English inhabitants of Lower Canada at 150,000, and the French at 450,000, the union of the two Provinces would not only give a clear English majority, but one which [61] would be increased every year by the influence of English emigration; and I have little doubt that the French, when once placed, by the legitimate course of events and the working of natural causes, in a minority, would abandon their vain hopes of nationality. . . .

But while I convince myself that such desirable ends would be secured by the legislative union of the two Provinces, I am inclined to go further, and inquire whether all these objects would not more surely be attained, by extending this legislative union over all the British Provinces in North America; and whether the advantages which I anticipate for two of them, might not, and should not in justice be extended over all. Such a union would at once decisively settle the question of races; it would enable all the Provinces to co-operate for all common purposes; and, above all, it would form a great and powerful people, possessing the means of securing good and responsible government for itself, and which, under the protection of the British Empire, might in some measure counterbalance the preponderant and increasing influence of the United States on the American Continent. I do not anticipate that a colonial legislature thus strong and thus self-governing, would desire to abandon the connexion with Great Britain. On the contrary, I believe that the practical relief from undue interference, which would be the result of such a change, would strengthen the present bond of feelings and interests; and that the connexion would only become more durable and advantageous, by having more of equality, of freedom, and of local independence. . . .

. . . I am averse to every plan that has been proposed for giving an equal number of members to the two Provinces, in order to attain the temporary end of out-numbering the French, because I think the same object will be obtained without any violation of the principle of representation, . . . and because, when emigration shall have increased the English population in the Upper Province, the adoption of such a principle would operate to defeat the very purpose it is intended to serve. It appears to me that any such electoral [62] arrangement, founded on the present provincial divisions, would tend to defeat the purposes of union, and perpetuate the idea of disunion.

. . . I pray Your Majesty's earnest attention to this Report. It is the last act arising out of the loyal and conscientious discharge of the high duties imposed upon me by the Commission with which Your Majesty was graciously pleased to entrust me. I humbly hope that Your Majesty will receive it favourably, and believe that it has been dictated by the most devoted feeling of loyalty and attachment to Your Majesty's Person and Throne, by the strongest sense of public duty, and by the earnest desire to perpetuate and strengthen the connexion between this Empire and the North American Colonies, which would then form one of the brightest ornaments in Your Majesty's Imperial Crown.

All which is humbly submitted to Your Majesty.

DURHAM.