Motion to Agree to the Amendments Made by the House of Commons, Debate

Lord Chatham

v1:211

The Order of the Day being read, the amendments to the Bill were read three times by the Clerk;

It was proposed, "To agree with the Commons in the said amendments."

Lord Chatham rose, and entered fully upon the subject of the Bill. He said it would involve a great country in

v1:212

a thousand difficulties, and in the worst of despotism, and put the whole People under arbitrary power; that it was a most cruel, oppressive, and odious measure, tearing up justice and every good principle by the roots; that by abolishing the trial by Jury, he supposed the framers of the Bill thought that mode of proceeding, together with the habeas corpus, mere moonshine, whilst every true Englishman was ready to lay down his life sooner than lose those two bulwarks of his personal security and property. The merely supposing that the Canadians would not be able to feel the good effects of law and freedom, because they had been used to arbitrary power, was an idea as ridiculous as false. He said the Bill established a despotic Government in that country, to which the Royal Proclamation, of 1763, promised the protection of the English laws. Here the noble Lord read part of the Proclamation, and then entered fully on the Council and power vested in the Governors, the whole mode of which, he said, was tyrannical and despotic: he was likewise very particular on the bad consequences that would attend the great extension of that Province, that the whole of the Bill appeared to him to be destructive of that liberty which ought to be the ground-work of every constitution: ten thousand objections, he was confident, might be made to the Bill, but the extinction of the mode of trial above mentioned, was a very alarming circumstance, and he would pronounce him a bold man who proposed such a plan. When his Lordship came to the religious part of the Bill, he directed his discourse to the bench of Bishops, telling them, that as by the Bill the Catholic religion was made the established religion of that vast Continent, it was impossible they could be silent on the occasion. He called the Bill a child of inordinate power, and desired and asked if any of that bench would hold it out for baptism; he touched again upon the unlimited power of the Governor, in appointing all the members, and who might be made up of Roman Catholics only. He also took notice of an amendment which had been made in the House of Commons, which was a new clause, repealing so much of the Act of Reformation of the first of Elizabeth, as relates to the oath of supremacy, and substituting a common oath of allegiance in its place. This Act of Elizabeth, he said, had always been looked upon as one that the Legislature had no more right to repeal, than the Great Charter, or the Bill of Rights.

His Lordship stated, with great force, many objections to the clause giving to the French Canadians so advantageous a part of the fisheries of cod on the Labrador coast, to the great prejudice of the English fishermen on the banks of Newfoundland; considering the said fisheries of Labrador as a nursery of French Canadian seamen, to man, in case of a French war, any squadrons of France, in those seas. He exposed the train of fatal mischiefs attending the establishment of popery and arbitrary power in that vast and fertile region now annexed to the Government of Quebec, and capable of containing (if fully peopled) not less than thirty millions of souls. He deduced the whole series of laws from the supremacy first re-vindicated under Henry the Eighth, down to this day, as fundamentals constituting a clear compact that all establishments by law are to be Protestant; which compact ought not to be altered, but by the consent of the collective body of the People. He further maintained, that the dangerous innovations of this Bill were at variance with all the safeguards and barriers against the return of Popery and of Popish influence, so wisely provided against by all the oaths of office and of trust, from the Constable up to the members of both Houses, and even to the Sovereign, in his coronation oath. He pathetically expressed his fears, that it might shake the affections and confidence of his Majesty' s Protestant subjects in England and Ireland; and finally lose the hearts of all his Majesty' s American subjects. His Lordship then said, that for these and other reasons, he gave his hearty negative to the Bill.

Lord Dartmouth

Lord Dartmouth said a few words in favour of the Bill.

Lord Lyttleton

Lord Lyttelton began by observing, that whatever fell from that noble Earl, fell with such weight as to make the deepest impression on those who heard him: that from the solemn opposition he had given to that clause of the Bill, which excused the Canadians from the oath of supremacy, and imposed an oath of allegiance in the room of it,

v1:213

he was induced to give his reasons why he differed from Lord Chatham; that so far from thinking with the noble Lord last named, that no man who was a Protestant in his heart could give his consent to the passing of that clause, he affirmed that no true Protestant could refuse it his hearty concurrence, because the doctrinal principles of our holy religion, drawn from that pure and excellent source the Gospel of our Saviour, breathed forth a spirit of moderation, candour, and universal toleration to all religions that were not incompatible with the precepts of morality, and the general welfare and happiness of mankind. That to oblige Catholics to deny the supremacy of the Pope, was to compel them forcibly to abjure their religion, and in reality, to commence a persecution against them; that opposition always grew and strengthened under the scythe of persecution, and that fanaticism was never formidable till it was oppressed. He said that the Canadians had, ever since the conquest of that country, behaved like good and peaceable subjects, that therefore they were justly entitled to a beneficial code of civil policy, and to a free exercise of their religion. That though he had the greatest reverence for the Protestant faith, yet he had no less respect for the safety and good government of the State; that to force the inhabitants of Canada to renounce those errors which they had imbibed with their mother' s milk, was to alter by violence the constitution of their mind, and by so doing, to lay a foundation for resistance, which if it did not proceed to rebellion, would at least tend to alienate their minds from that allegiance which they had but just adopted, and which, under the mild government we exercised over them, would, he hoped, be daily strengthened and matured by time. That it was matter of triumph to this great and free country to treat the conquered subjects of France with more lenity, and to give them a better form of Government than that which they had received from their mother country; that so far was he from believing that Administration had predetermined in the closet the result of the proceedings of Parliament, and that, as the noble Earl expressed himself, "what must be, must be," that on the contrary, in every stage of the Bill, they had shewed the greatest candour and desire of information, and in the House of Commons, had actually adopted many ideas that had been thrown out by opposition, especially in regard to a very important part of the Bill, the definition of the limits of Canada. He said, he approved of the Bill, chiefly from its lenity and moderation, and that he deemed it sound policy for a conquering nation to lay the yoke lightly over the necks of those who were subjected to its dominion. That as the noble Earl had observed how much Canada was inclined towards France, he thought nothing was more likely to win them over to England than to improve and meliorate their commercial as well as political situation, and, above all, to give them liberty of conscience in religious matters.

His Lordship then observed, the dark times of superstition were past, that the gloomy reign of persecution and priestcraft were now at an end, that science every where diffused — had every where enlightened the human mind; he took notice that the noble Earl had said, if the Bill passed you might take down the bells from your steeples, and the steeples from your churches; but that if even that was to happen, the evil would not be great, for that Christian men might meet in the faith of Christ and in Christian charity without these things, which to the pure of heart and to the truly devout were of little importance; that they were the externals of religion, the internals of which were charity and universal benevolence; and that these principles gave birth to the clause which the noble Earl had so uncharitably censured.

After Lord Lyttelton had thus answered Lord Chatham' s objections to the religious tendency of the Bill, he proceeded to shew why he approved of the general policy of it: he said, he would not pretend to be sufficiently versed in the deep science of politics to affirm whether or no a better system of legislation might not have been invented, but that he insisted upon the code contained in the Bill to be conformable to the genius of the country over which it is to be exercised; that it was consistent with the political notions of the inhabitants, and the form of Government to which they had been accustomed; that forms of Government must always be suited to the dispositions of the governed, and infinitely varied in different climates; that

v1:214

the mild Constitution of this country would be rejected with contempt by the sons of despotism in Asia, and the excess of liberty happily spread over England, would degenerate to an excess of licentiousness in Canada. As to the idea of the noble Earl, that this political separation of Canada from the rest of America might be a means of dividing their interests, and that French Canada would in a future day be used as a proper instrument to quell British America, Lord Lyttelton said, he was not apprehensive of these consequences; but that if British America was determined to resist the lawful power and pre-eminence of Great Britain, he saw no reason why the loyal inhabitants of Canada should not co-operate with the rest of the Empire in subduing them, and bringing them to a right sense of their duty; and he thought it happy, that, from their local situation, they might be some check to those fierce fanatic spirits that, inflamed with the same zeal which animated the Round-heads in England, directed that zeal to the same purposes, to the demolition of regal authority, and to the subversion of all power which they did not themselves possess; that they were composed of the same leaven, and whilst they pretended to be contending for liberty, they were setting up an absolute independent Republic, and that the struggle was not for freedom, but power, which was proved from the whole tenor of their conduct, even to demonstration.

Bill Passed

The question was then put, and the House divided:

Contents, 26; Non-Contents, 7.

So it was resolved in the Affirmative.

Lords in the Minority

The following Lords were the minority: the Duke of Gloucester, the Earls Chatham, Coventry, Effingham, and Spencer, the Lords Sandys, and King.

Notes

nts

* The Session was drawing near to the usual time of recess; and the greatest number of the members, fatigued with a long attendance on the American Bills, were retired into the country. In this situation, a Bill which has engaged a great deal of the public attention, was brought into the House of Lords; — "The Bill for making more effectual provision for the Government of the Province of Quebec, in North America," This passed through that House, with very little, if any observation. But which it came down to the House of Commons, it met with a very different reception. A disposition immediately appeared in that House to criticise it with unusual severity. The party for Ministry seemed to be a little alarmed at this spirit, partly because, from its easy passage through the House of Lords, it was not so much expected; but principally, because they apprehended it would create more uneasiness among the People out of doors than any of the former Bills. In this case, the passions which had been excited by the disorders in America, did not operate in their favour. And as the Act had for a part of its objects establishments touching religion, it was far more likely to give occasion for popular complaint. The Ministry therefore found it necessary not to carry things with so high an hand as in the preceding Bills.

The Bill received in the course of these debates [in the Commons] many amendments, so as to change it very greatly from the state in which it came down from the House of Lords; but the ground-work remained the same. Throughout the whole progress of the business, though well fought, the numbers in the minority were uncommonly small. It produced, nevertheless, much greater uneasiness and discontent out of doors than any of the Bills for punishing of the old Colonies.

This discontent called on the attention of the House of Lords; so that when the Bill was returned to them with the amendments, there was a considerable opposition to it, although in some respects less exceptionable than when it had passed their House with so little notice; but, as in all other questions, so in this, the minority shewed no strength in numbers.

The session had now stretched far into the Summer. The business of it had been of as much importance as that, perhaps, of any session since the revolution. Great changes had been made in the economy of some of the Colonies, which were thought foundations for changes of a like nature in others; and the most sanguine expectations were entertained by the Ministry, that when Parliament had shewn so determined a resolution, and the advocates for the Colonies had appeared so very little able to protect them, the submission throughout America would be immediate; and complete obedience and tranquillity would be secured in future. The triumphs and mutual congratulations of all who supported these measures; within doors and without were unusually great. — Ann˙ Regis.