Chantier Politique

April 14, 2017

English Edition, No. 11


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A Turning Point in the Patriots’ Nation-Building Project

May 7, 1837 :
A Historic Public Assembly in Defence of
Rights and Against the Arbitrariness of the Crown

On May 7, 1837, 1,200 Patriots gathered at St-Ours to discuss and adopt a line of march following the the British Crown's rejection of the 92 resolutions passed by the elected members of the Parliament of Lower Canada’s House of Assembly. The resolutions, an affirmation of their democratic rights, had been submitted to the British House of Commons in April 1834.

This negation of the will of the Patriots to establish political and economic arrangements in conformity with the needs of the inhabitants of Lower Canada emerged from a report produced by the Royal Commission for the Investigation of All Grievances Affecting His Majesty's Subjects of Lower Canada, established in 1835. Led by Archibald Acheson, 2nd Count of Gosford and Governor of Lower Canada, the Commission rejected the proposed reforms. The Commission’s report was used by Lord John Russell, Minister of the Interior in the British Parliament, to present, on March 6, 1937, ten resolutions to London’s Parliament. The resolutions reaffirmed control by the British monarchy over the decisions taken in Lower Canada.

Resolutions 4 and 5 read as follows: "THAT in the existing state of Lower Canada, it is unadvisable to make the Legislative Council of that province an elective body; but that it is expedient that measures be adopted for securing to that branch of the Legislature a greater degree of public confidence.

"THAT while it is expedient to improve the composition of the Executive Council in Lower Canada, it is unadvisable to subject it to the responsibility demanded by the House of Assembly of that Province."

Resolution 8 reaffirmed the Crown’s control over the young nation’s economy: "THAT for defraying the arrears due on account of the established and customary charges of the Administration of Justice and of the Civil Government of the said Province, it is expedient that, after applying for that purpose such balance as shall, on the said Tenth day of April One thousand eight hundred and thirty-seven be in the hands of the Receiver-General of the said Province, arising from His Majesty's Hereditary, Territorial and Casual Revenue, the Governor of the same Province be empowered to issue from and out of any other part of His Majesty's Revenues in the hands of the Receiver-General of the said Province such further sums as shall be necessary to effect the payment of the before-mentioned sum of 142,160l. 14s. 6d."

As soon as the news spread, the Patriots organized public assemblies to mobilize the inhabitants to prepare a proper response to this negation of their demands. On April 20, the newspaper La Minerve announced that a large assembly would be held in Saint-Ours, in the county of Richelieu.

On May 7, Patriots Siméon Marchesseault, Charles-Olivier Côté and Doctor Wolfred Nelson addressed the crowd and 12 resolutions, later to be referred to as the Declaration of St-Ours, were adopted. Below are some excerpts:

"That under these circumstances, we could no longer look on the government which would have recourse to injustice, violence, and a violation of the social contract, except as an oppressive power - a government of force - the extent of our submission to which must henceforth depend on our numerical strength, united with the sympathy which we shall experience elsewhere.

[...]

"That we deny to the British Parliament the right of legislating on what concerns the internal affairs of this Colony, unless with our consent, our participation, and at our express demand; that the non-exercise of such a right by England was guaranteed to us by the Constitution, and acknowledged by the Metropolitan authority, when it feared that we should accept the offers of Liberty and Independence made to us by the neighbouring Republic [...]

"[...] that as, not withstanding, our public revenue, of which the metropolitan authority dares to dispose without our control, is about to become in its hands, another means of our oppression, we regard ourselves bound in duty, as in honour, to resist a tyrant power in every way at present at our disposal, in order to diminish inasmuch as in us lies the means of our oppression.

"That we will abstain, as much as in us lies, from consuming imported goods, particularly those which pay the higher rates of duties such as Tea, Tobacco Sugar, Rum, etc - that we will consume in preference, the manufactures of the country: - that we regard as well deserving of the country, whoever shall establish manufactures, whether of Cloth, Linen, Sugar, Spirits, &c. [...]

"[...] that our friends and brethren of the POLITICAL UNION of TORONTO are equally deserving of our thanks, for the sympathy which they have expressed in our regard in a series of Resolutions passed on the 17th ult. [April 17], against the measures of Coercion proposed by the Ministers.


"This is the case I make of your proclamations"

"That this meeting is convinced, that at a General Election with which the country is threatened at the instigation of weak and perverse men as ignorant of public opinion at the present crisis as they are devoid of all influence, the Electors will testify their gratitude towards their faithful Representatives by electing them anew, and by rejecting those who have forfeited their promises and their duty; who have betrayed the country either by siding with our enemies, or by absenting themselves, like cowards, when the country expected of them the honest expression of their opinion."

Gosford subsequently adopted a proclamation whereby the assemblies were deemed in breach of the peace,  "seditious publications" were banned and the population was called upon to do all it could to prevent  such discourse. Despite the fact that the proclamation was posted everywhere in Quebec City and in various counties as of June 17, 1837, the Patriot movement refused to be intimidated and went ahead with its meetings and assemblies to defence of its project for a republic.

Sources: 
Resolutions intended to be proposed by Lord John Russell, in a Committee of the whole House relative to the affairs of Canada. 1837, Great Britain. Parliament. House of Commons. Assented to by the House 28 April 1837, London: s.n., Baldwin Collection, Toronto Reference Library 320.971402 G675 BR
(http://static.torontopubliclibrary.ca/da/pdfs/37131055452296d.pdf)

Translation of Declaration of St-Ours: The Vindicator, May 12, 1837, p. 2
(http://collections.banq.qc.ca/erezFullScreen?erezLang=english&fsiFile=http://collections.banq.qc.ca/fsi/370774.fsi)

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